"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

U.S. Civil War was just another tragic war

R.E. Lee statue (WTOP image)
Recent headlines have gotten us wondering, "What if the South had won the Civil War?" If you accept the premise that the Confederacy was a (mere) rebellion, it's easy to see why the war just ran its course. There was no grand vision in the South for a "new nation." Only in rhetoric was that aspiration voiced. The South felt alienated from "the Union" and wanted to blow off steam.
Had there been a grand vision for a new nation, Southern interests would have promoted a more powerful central government to make it happen. Decentralized government was what the South articulated. But that sure won't win you a war. It's hard enough to win a war with a coordinated central effort. Did the Confederacy ever have a real sense of its borders? The Mason-Dixon line was just a straight horizontal line.
Literary minds have speculated on the South "winning." Articles and books have fallen into the "alternate history" vein which is the sort of thing that appeals to sci-fi buffs. It endlessly taps the imagination. What if Napoleon conquered Russia?
I would suggest that the genre could also apply to Hollywood. What if Shirley Temple and not Judy Garland had been cast in "The Wizard of Oz?" What if Rod Steiger and not George C. Scott had been cast in "Patton?" Steiger was offered the role. His stock had risen in the classic "In the Heat of the Night" with Sidney Poitier. Steiger declined, based on the political tenor of the times. The Viet Nam war had left a big chunk of America vigorously opposed to war. Steiger decided the movie "Patton" would glorify war.
So how did "Patton" turn out? Aside from being artistically and commercially successful, it was a movie that didn't really make a statement about war in general. Patton in reality was a controversial figure. His surviving family was poised to take action against the movie because of a suspicion that it would promote contentiousness with the general's memory. But the family was pleased. The movie was about America and a love of simply winning, two things that are quite intertwined. The war was long over as of 1970. It would have been beating a dead horse to resurrect any controversies. And there were definite bitter controversies. "Ike" Eisenhower was so incensed about the movie "The Battle of the Bulge" (with Henry Fonda), he called a press conference.
Taking Iwo Jima, specifically the steep price paid, was controversial. "Island-hopping" in general was a sore spot in the American psyche. The taking of Tarawa, again with such a huge price paid, brought demands to fire an admiral. Many parents across America were embittered permanently about losing their sons in World War II, even though the meme grew that this war was grand and glorious, a triumph over tyranny. Those parents weren't much inclined to attend Memorial Day programs and hear sanctimonious speeches by guys wearing funny hats.
Even "the good war" like WWII was nothing but hell. Think of the hand-to-hand combat scenes in "Saving Private Ryan." The Ryan movie has become a definitive one about WWII. Cable TV channels run it a lot. Didn't the young Ryan defy an order by not agreeing to be taken away by the Tom Hanks character and his comrades? Had he agreed to that, would the endearing Hanks character have survived and been able to go home to his family? There'd be no need for that scene at the end where the older Ryan weeps at graveside.
History is full of wars with blood and death. It's ironic we seek entertainment at the movie theater about them.
We don't see movies with Civil War combat in them much anymore. Interesting. Is it because Hollywood is stepping lightly with its relationship with the Deep South states? The movie "Gettysburg" (with Jeff Daniels) had a sequel that seemed to back off from the assumption that the Union was on the morally higher ground. "Gods and Generals" wanted us to understand where the South was coming from. A black woman answers the door in Fredericksburg. The Union soldier at the door says "is this your master's house?" There's a pause and then she says "this is my house." General Jackson gives a lecture where he talks about Northern leaders being able to fall back on their profiteering interests after the war. Hint: the Southern people were more noble.
The "alt right" demonstrators in Charlottesville VA would like the movie "Gods and Generals." Maybe that movie killed off the Civil War genre of movies. Viewing the South as being morally equivalent to the North is a lie and people can see that.
Alternate history books can be fascinating. I read one once that had the Army of the Potomac wiping out the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia at the end of the battle of Gettysburg. Such a story seems plausible. But one problem: it didn't happen. Why? It's so easy to apply hindsight. Maybe General Meade felt that the three days of fighting were so horrific and bloody, restraint was needed or else the morale of the army might suffer irreparably. The soldiers on the battlefield were not like pawns on a chessboard. They are human beings.
Think of the most depressing Viet Nam war movie you have ever seen. Such a movie may well have not gone far enough. Has any movie really gotten into the phenomenon of "fragging?" This is where soldiers would kill their own superiors, often with a fragmentation grenade. Sometimes a grenade would be left on a bed as a threat. We are learning that the U.S. had no choice but to leave Viet Nam when it did, precisely because "fragging" was happening often and could not be accepted.
I wonder if any veterans who committed fragging actually show up at Memorial Day programs. Why not? Veterans get treated as heroes at such events. Just wear that little hat.
War is simply hell. The battles do not follow the logical lines that are presented in movies. Andy Rooney once made this point. He was there in the mess of World War II. And that's what it was, he said: a mess. Books written by generals make battles seem more organized than they were. The reason battles seem a mess is that both sides employ deception. Both sides are good at it. What a depressing science.
Could the South have won the Civil War? My answer is an absolute "no." George Will wrote that it's simple to understand why the Union won. It simply killed all the Confederates.
Addendum: Here's a little more follow-up on "Saving Private Ryan." Did the American side really make the best decisions in that confrontation with Germans in that little town? We see the "tank buster" airplanes arriving like cavalry at the end. Did the U.S. troops know those planes were on the way? Maybe they should have re-deployed away from that bombed-out town and given some time for the planes to arrive. The planes could have taken out the German tanks and perhaps done even more damage. But instead we got those scenes that were right out of the old "Combat!" TV show with Vic Morrow. Or, right out of the "Sergeant Rock" comic book series where the machine guns made "rat-tat-tat" sounds.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Pondering that alternate path in life

I remember fondly when I dropped off my articles at the Sun Tribune as a "stringer." Maybe that was my peak as a journalist. Ah, such an air of innocence. I was a total Morrissite at that time. Occasionally I wore my orange and black letter jacket.
Those were the days when all articles had to go through a "typesetting" process. We worked on manual typewriters. It was an ungainly system in many ways, so much so, people were not really attracted to the profession. We worked with scissors and waxers. Worst of all, there was a photographic darkroom that was an absolute sinkhole for problems and expense.
Yet I personally was attached to journalism. We easily forget that in those days, roughly in 1970, writing was not considered fun. Typing was not considered fun. We used "white-out," remember? Didn't Michael Nesmith's mother invent that? So the legend goes. We corrected errors, sort of, with white-out. Writers would prepare a story and then make corrections all over the place with a ballpoint pen. The piece would look like a battlefield at the end. But we viewed this kind of product as the fruit of committed labor. It was like a badge.
Reporters had rolled-up sleeves and often smoked. We might go to the bar at the end of a rigorous "press day."
As a stringer for the Sun Tribune I didn't deal with press days. I did articles on a piecemeal basis and dropped them off. I remember describing a Tiger sports victory as "heartfelt" and Arnold Thompson changed it to "especially savory." Years later I would take criticism from the likes of Lee Temte, that I over-used "savory" as an adjective for public suppers. "Savory dinners." A forensic writing analyst would have me pegged in no time.
Having been out of the work force for eleven years, I often speculate on how my life could have turned out different. I never really wanted to leave Morris. Because I was always worried about how people perceived me - Perry Ford gave me a hard time about this - I felt I had to follow mores and try to leave home. Which would have been fine, had it really been in my best interests. For one thing, I wasn't ready.
School classes had terrorized me for years. I was so obsessed with simply surviving in school, I neglected priorities like simply mastering life skills. Get up in the morning ready to pursue certain priorities that have nothing to do with school. Take pride in how you approach those tasks. Forget about those school teachers who lorded over us so much. Who gave them the power to do that, to behave as if they practically owned us? Our parents? I really doubt that.
Public schools developed as a big government enterprise - monopolistic government - in part because it was big government that won World War II. It is a truism that government does nothing better than to fight wars. There is no substitute for it. A generation that should have known better - Tom Brokaw's Greatest Generation -  put public schools on a pedestal as a bastion of big, uncontested government.
Then we saw the emergence of teachers unions which became the absolute bane of my existence, my Achilles heel as it were. My perspective as a full-time employee of the Morris paper, beginning in 1979, gave me full view of the highly political and parochial machinations of teachers unions which I saw as so regressive and depressing. Parents would get cowed by them.
Our Morris public school system became steadily ossified until the late 1980s when suddenly a whole bunch of parents began seeing things the same way I had. At the heart of the difficulties was a cultural problem among school staff. The "deconstructionist" attitude of the 1970s, so in vogue for a time, had seeped into the local consciousness way too much. Part of this was a dismissal of extracurricular activities as being rather Neanderthal. Maybe, though, it was more a matter of teachers using their union leverage, to "take care of their own."
As we heard so often: "You can't fire a teacher." Nobody savors the thought of anyone getting fired. But teachers seemed to escape all accountability. They brandished their power to set their own agenda and wag a middle finger at the general public if need be. Taking on that ossified and regressive mess was not going to be easy. I learned we weren't alone here in Morris. A friend of mine whose profession was in financial services said "this is happening everywhere." He continued: "You'll have a biology teacher who has a coaching certificate and he probably isn't the best coach."
Teachers protected their own in a tired guild fashion. It was all political - who was friends with who. Man, I suffered as a result of that. Had I been a mere stringer for the Sun Tribune through the years, I might well have just backed away, withdrawn for a time. My critics would say "yeah Brian, and you could have withdrawn permanently, you stupid a--." You see, those are the terms on which they attacked me: I was stupid. I was a hopeless writer, which of course I'm not.
Those people would not have wanted to debate me on the merits of the issues at hand. That would have challenged their mentality too much. It was easier for them to create and spread a meme that I was an incompetent writer. The meme hurt me so much, I was greatly restricted in sharing my talents over the last 20 years of my career - a great shame. After the goalpost incident at UMM in 2005, certain people attacked me on a base level and it was all political, in my view. People had an ax to grind, and it was all because I was unwilling to rubber stamp the objectives of the local public school teachers union in the 1980s.
I consider the teachers union of the late '70s and '80s to be the most pernicious influence in the history of this community. I get the sense the climate is much more calm and positive today.
I remember when it was well-known how much the teachers absolutely hated the superintendent. That individual was Fred Switzer. Like him or not, there was an orderly process for school administration that involved the board hiring and then supporting the superintendent.
Remember the local Mn-DOT union? Remember when they called a big strike? I don't think Mn-DOT operates like that at all anymore. I think organizations of all kinds have evolved to where we don't have this line drawn between "management" and "labor." The contemporary organization consists of "team members" all of whom have their valuable role.
I think we have seen our last strike by employees of the U of M-Morris. Remember those picketers with picket signs? Today, educational institutions are strongly promoting private giving. It is much harder to nurture that in an environment where "labor" goes on strike periodically.
It was common in the early 1980s to see public school teacher strikes. They especially tore apart our small outstate Minnesota communities. The powers that be must have recognized the great damage being done. We don't hear about strikes or threats of strikes from teachers anymore.
I might have withdrawn as a stringer from the Sun Tribune because of internal problems there. Namely, this was the dominance on the staff of non-Morris sports parents, who were being allowed to have way too much influence in the sports department. "Yeah," my detractors would say, "then we would have been rid of you." What pleasant people. Many of these people were regular consumers of alcohol and often attended house parties where they all reinforced their preferred agenda re. school objectives, appointments etc. I often heard the word "clique."
I wasn't alone in assessing the situation this way. I remember that soon after a lightning rod individual left the school district - because he was even too much for the entrenched powers - there was a letter to the editor deferential to him. It was signed by most members of that clique. Mary Holmberg's name was not there. I'm sure she was approached about it.
Later in one of my informal conversations with Dennis Rettke ("background"), he talked about "that damn letter" and said he had told Mark Torgerson that the letter almost cost him his head boys basketball coaching appointment. Oh, I'm not sure it would have. An act of God would have been required to prevent that appointment, a lifetime appointment as it turned out. Rettke hired a coach named Chris Baxter for the boys, but that was vetoed by the political climate. Call it "the good old boys" at work.
Perhaps the greatest unanswered question in the history of Morris is how Baxter would have done, had he gotten a head basketball appointment right away. He was widely perceived as following a different drummer. He was totally traditional and intense. He thought the purpose of a sports program was to try to utilize all your resources to try to win. Not to segregate all sophomores on the 'B' team.
I know about Rettke's intentions because I heard it directly from him. Morris was dragged through a less than placid transition to a new era in which the "deconstructionist" stuff was thrown out. It was belated. This should have started at roughly the same time Ronald Reagan was elected president.
This blog post is a somewhat painful retrospective on a time that could get lost in the hourglass, lest I preserve it. The truths are painful but they are most certainly true. Like the "pet rocks" of the 1970s.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Morris paper's front page seems like groveling

It's hardly necessary for me to present any criticism of the Morris paper, or as they might call themselves, the "Morris-Hancock" paper. Since the paper has grown not at all since the purported "merger" began, it can readily be described as bogus. I have called it a lie. But does anyone care?
The paper has nakedly tried cutting its way to profit over the past decade. As time marches forward, an increasing number of people are not going to realize the paper was once twice a week. Perhaps a simple weekly is suitable for Morris. But it has become such a small paper.
Has the media landscape changed that dramatically? The Elbow Lake newspaper remains generous in size. The popular "Senior Perspective" has not shown signs of retrenchment. Why the disparity? Maybe we ought to theorize that the Morris economy has something to do with it. I have wondered if there might be a "Hector phenomenon" here. The Star Tribune had a story on how the town of Hector MN was having its economy suffer because of being just a half hour's drive from a cluster of big box stores. In Morris we're just 45 minutes away. Also consider that Alex (or "Alec") is most inviting. It's not only inviting for shopping, it's inviting as a place to live. Think of many of our friends who have re-located there.
We get showered with advertising circulars for Alexandria businesses due to the fact the Morris and Alex papers have the same owner. I suspect those Alex businesses get exposure in Morris as a "perk" for advertising with Forum Communications, the owner. Elden's would never pay the same price as Willie's to reach the specific Morris audience, would it? We get circulars for "your hometown Sears store."
Peculiar front page
I'm writing this post because of what the Morris (or Morris-Hancock) paper shoved at us on Saturday (8/19). The paper is its normal size of 18 pages. Remember that for quite a while, it sat at 24 pages. So the 18-page current paper burns up its front page with a self-serving, desperate sounding, groveling type of message simply telling us to keep patronizing the paper. In effect, "Give us your money."
We're supposed to wonder what life would be like without our local paper. I suspect many Hancock residents are sifting through the reality of having the Hancock Record taken away from them. If there's no real shock yet, perhaps there will be with the onset of fall and the start of school activities.
It's interesting: we're told that newspapers generally are fading because people get their news and information online. However, as I pointed out in a conversation with Randy Thielke last week, schools have not taken it upon themselves to report and promote sports teams on their own website. Nor are coaches taking it upon themselves, so it's really up to the local paper in one way or another. Ten years ago I was expecting schools to get much more involved, to establish platforms like what we see with the UMM website having a big, dynamic sports element where you can find everything you need at all times.
Sports competes for support from the school budget along with everything else. So why shouldn't schools and their sports programs roll up their sleeves more? "We don't have time." There's a knee-jerk response. Well, accept the consequences if you find the visibility of your programs lowered. How in heck is Hancock sports going to get its due in the Morris-based paper if the Morris paper is no bigger than before? It's elementary: something will have to be jettisoned. If the Morris paper goes out of its way to accommodate Hancock, I assure you there will be blowback from Morris interests.
The paper's personnel are not above misrepresenting things. Here is an email I got from a main street business friend on June 12:
The new ad guy was in today, saying that the new "Stevens County Times" will run anywhere between 20-25 pages per issue, depending on content from both Hancock and Morris. They are re-doing the website to use the same template as the Forgo Forum, West Central Tribune etc. Apparently there will be some "free" content (a selection of stories from the paper edition), but only the people that pay for a paper subscription will get access to the full Monty. Those of us that pay for space ads will also get digital versions, and for an extra fee will get "search optimization" links from choice words therein.
The newspaper was actually just 16 pages recently, if you exclude the  county fair wrap-around. BTW remember those Denny Hecker wrap-arounds that were with the Minneapolis paper for a long time? It's unconscionable for the paper to "burn" its whole front page - such a limited resource - using large headline type to basically grovel at our feet, to plead for enough support to stay in business, I guess.
You know what? Millennials do not believe in paying for information, period.
The email quoted in this post suggested that we will accept the Sun Tribune as a "middleman" for getting information, with the paper able to scrape in money for this. I don't care about the newspaper's website. We can read obituaries on the funeral home's website and in a much more timely way. Ten years ago people weren't that adept at search - today they are much better. It's no sweat to navigate around the web with good ol' Google.
And, to hell with "district court news." It's simply a vehicle for supplying the local gossip mill, so we can whisper about who's getting minor citations. A former First Lutheran pastor was livid about having his minor speeding ticket get in the paper. "Why does it have to be in the paper?" he said.
Well, we can all choose not to do business with the paper. Please give this option greater consideration. And, I will implore local business people one more time: stop supporting those "sucker ads." The county fair wraparound was an example of this. Lists of businesses that are simply there to have their name with some good cause or idea. Let the paper do this promotion on its own. Don't let yourself be taken advantage of. Use ads to inform the public of your products and services. That's what it's for.
However, more and more people will probably go to Alex anyway. In summing up my thoughts about that current front page, allow me to use a word that I found was a favorite of the newspaper manager: "asinine."
A final thought/aside: Why should the school give the paper any exclusive access to info pertinent to the school, when the paper just tries monetizing it? The school should go directly to the public, which makes total sense if you apply a few brain cells. Get into the year 2017.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Friday, August 18, 2017

Teacher and coach Roger Schnaser, RIP

(Oak Ridge Funeral Care image)
The boomer generation of Morris lost another of its teachers in June. We had been distant from this fellow for a long time. Upon hearing his name, a flood of memories comes back. I associate this guy with my adolescence. Ah, adolescence: a time of life that can have anxiety and insecurity. Roger Schnaser was there to hold our hands. He taught phy ed and health and was a coach.
"Tall" might be the word coming immediately to mind. He was a rangy fellow and used that attribute in basketball. He learned to play basketball on the dusty floor of the barn on the family farm. He had a lifelong attachment to the sport. He coached varsity for a time in Morris. I think my classmate Gary Lembcke was already playing varsity at that time. Gary completed his hoops career under Wayne Haugen.
We hear a lot today about "retention" at our University of Minnesota-Morris. In other words, a lot of students start their education at UMM but don't finish it here. Roger Schnaser was the opposite. He began at Willmar Junior College (before it was called a community college or Ridgewater) and then came to UMM. He played basketball in a superlative way here. I assume that was at the old P.E. Annex. The Annex had personality but was rather primitive, like the gym we associate with "The Absent Minded Professor" with Fred MacMurray. The pool was downstairs. The science facility sits there now.
Junior college students have a reputation of being a notch or two below the brilliant minds we associate with our UMM, right? That can be a nasty stereotype. Schnaser handled UMM just fine and got a degree here in 1967. He began teaching in the Morris public school system. I have warm memories of the towering fellow, this in spite of the fact that one day when returning graded tests to us, he said to me "were you asleep when you took this test?"
My fondest vignette is from the annual Olympics Day in spring. I was in the pole vault and had readied myself using a makeshift system in the back yard. But I wasn't feeling real comfortable or confident. Suddenly, just before I'd make a run at it, I saw Schnaser poised on the opposite end of the pit, pointing his home movie camera right at me! I didn't want to let him down. I charged furiously toward the bar, planted the pole and got sufficient momentum to get over the bar! Thanks Mr. Schnaser. I remember I was competing with the late Gary Michaelson.
Schnaser's tenure came to an end here. He got his Master's in Recreation Administration at the University of Northern Colorado in 1973. But his next career chapter was in insurance. He was an agent for State Farm from 1975 to 2009. His obituary states that "he developed a strong network of friends, co-workers and policy holders who were subjected to many pranks and jokes."
He didn't leave basketball behind him. He found avenues for coaching. He was active in the Lutheran Church, assuming leadership roles. It was ditto with his daughters' schools. His humor and love of life were endearing. He cherished the Bible passage John 3:16.
Mr. Schnaser passed away peacefully on June 6, 2007, at Good Shepherd Forsythe Hospice House in Auburndale, Florida. He left us too soon at the age of 72. He came into this world when the U.S. was engaged in World War II, in 1944. His obit says he had "an idyllic rural upbringing and education." He graduated from Appleton High School in 1962. A trivia question: what was the sports nickname for Appleton? It was "Aces!"
A legacy of family
Roger is survived by his wife of 47 years, Linda. They had two daughters: Joa and Jill. His brother Kenneth is still a resident of Appleton. There are three other siblings: Pat, Mary and Don. He and Linda had four grandchildren. Brother Gene Schnaser preceded Roger in death.
Let's note that in addition to all the other components in his active life, Roger was in the National Guard.
Memorial services were on June 10 at Grace Lutheran Church in Winter Haven FL. Additional services were at Lutheran Church of the Redemption in Bloomington MN. Memorial donations to the American Cancer Society are encouraged.
I remember Roger had a ping pong tournament in phy ed class. Having had experience with the paddle, I did well and ended up in the championship showdown with John Martin (Liz Morrison's brother). The other students in our class assembled in the bleachers. I lost, which didn't surprise me because I've never been good at performing under pressure. Roger asked for applause for both of us at the end. Thank you, Mr. Schnaser.
And thanks for the little incentive you gave me in the pole vault. I hope that in heaven, you can stay in shape with that "Chicken Fat" record you played for us! "Give that chicken fat back to the chicken, and don't be chicken again." Rest in peace, Mr. Schnaser.
Addendum: Del Sarlette tells me that during the Morris Centennial in 1971, Roger's name was announced during the program whereupon our classmate Terry Rice shouted, without missing a beat: "Hey Shorty!" I remember noticing Roger right away at the funeral for Don Chizek, because he stood out so much with his height at the Assumption Church sanctuary.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

4-H foodstand loses some of its appeal

The family went out to the county fair for 2017. Last year we passed because of confusion over the changed fair schedule. Last year we made an attempt to come out on Wednesday only to be put off by the "private parking" signs at the road leading to the main fair parking lot. I was flabbergasted. It turns out the fair doesn't really get going on Wednesday, even though the community supper has been changed to Tuesday.
This is one of those things, I guess, where you just have to be in the know. Call it one of those small town things. "Didn't you know that? Everyone knows that." Well sorry, guess we're out of the loop.
Superior Industries has moved into the fair and taken a chunk. I guess that explained the "private parking" signs. I was told to check the Lee Center parking area. That's a long walk to the 4-H foodstand which has been our main priority. Last year Mom was not yet wheelchair-bound. The walk from Lee Center would have been too much for her. But even if we had made it, we would have discovered that the 4-H foodstand wasn't open on Wednesday. That would have upset me. I'm sure people checked out the foodstand on Wednesday expecting it to be open. A 4-H parent tells me the organization doesn't have the resources to open that early.
We returned to the 4-H foodstand for the 2017 fair, but that was not a wholly happy experience. In the past when there were three of us, we'd automatically order the "plate special." It included a sloppy joe, chips and coleslaw. This year there was no plate special on the menu. Why not offer fairgoers a nice little meal special?
I also found that the prices at the foodstand seemed high. I discussed this with a long-time 4-H leader on Sunday, and he said "you have to charge what other places charge." Nice little rationalization. Well, you don't "have to" charge what someone else charges. The fair is a tempting opportunity to gouge the public. I would just like to suggest that Stevens County 4-H should be above that. We all want to have warm feelings about Stevens County 4-H.
I heard someone on Monday say the soup seemed awfully "thin" at the 4-H foodstand. My family got overcharged for dessert on Sunday afternoon and of course I decided not to make an issue of it. Sometimes those very little kids working at the foodstand can be overwhelmed. Maybe the very youngest kids should be excused from doing that. Let the older kids and adults handle it. I was told that one pie a la mode and one brownie sundae came to about $9.50. I knew that was wrong but I let it go. I assumed it was an honest mistake. I hope it was.
Here's a theory: Maybe the person in charge of the 4-H foodstand this year wanted to show off about how much money he/she could make for 4-H. Well, money's honey, I guess, especially in the year 2017 when our happiness is determined by how the "Dow" behaves each year. I'm waiting for our benevolent Lord to straighten us out on this. God never rewards sheer materialism.
Next year I think we'll switch to the Hockey Association (VFW) foodstand. At least you have adults waiting on you there. I have fond memories of the VFW foodstand going back to when the VFW's people actually ran it: an endearing crowd with the likes of Darlene Olen. You'd order eggs over easy and Darlene would bark back "over hard." I'd chuckle. I guess Darlene preferred making them that way. At a certain point in the morning, the Elmer's Distributing crew (with Oscar Brandt) would show up and get seated at a couple of picnic tables there.
I loved those peaceful times at the fair when I wasn't preoccupied with newspaper duties. 4-H at the fair no longer needs a newspaper person around. They can do all that work themselves and I think that's nice.
I remember the fair from when it was much smaller than today. The late 1970s saw the fair at a rather rinky-dink level, prompting one to think the end might be near for the event. Commercial exhibits were in a rickety old building. The 4-H foodstand with Flossie Mathison in charge - bless her memory - had seating only around the perimeter. A big deal was made of getting an "indoor livestock arena" but this was really just a roof.
We went through a phase of having big-time country musicians here. A huge deal was made of this. The casinos came along and attracted all the performers. We still have those great "dirt" events. Well, here in the year 2017 our fair certainly seems healthy. We just don't want people getting too greedy, right?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

When a deep dark tan in summer was nice

I hate to let go of this summer. Summer never lasts long enough. My generation when young thought it desirable to get a rich "tan" in summer. It was a sign of being "cool" to get such a tan - something that made you stand out in a positive way.
Our band director introduced his own daughter as "Miss Lobster" at the start of a summer rehearsal. We all laughed. Her tan was the optimal one. She was attractive too by the standards of that time. Being thin was a factor that went into the mix of being considered attractive. We have changed that yardstick, for the better to be sure. The human race has evolved since the days of the "wolf whistle" and females being called "babes" or "dames," the latter term tossed out by Frank Sinatra and his peers.
Do kids put any value in having a "tan" anymore? I read once that in pre-baby boomer times, a tan was something associated with having a hard labor type of job out in the fields. It was not desirable at all. My generation came along and suddenly thought it was quite fashionable, along with various behaviors that had questionable value: listening to loud "stereo" music, smoking dope and having a slouched posture. Ah, that was my generation.
I was acquainted with a female in the summer of 1973 who sat outside for long hours, letting the sun bake into her skin so she could get that much-sought deep tan.
My generation tried to act like we didn't care about money. Maybe this was because we didn't feel communism was worth fighting in Viet Nam. Let's try to sympathize with the values of the enemy, then. There was a professor on the St. Cloud State campus who was reputed to be openly favoring the North Vietnamese. Today he'd be "ambushed" and shamed by a Fox News reporter. The institution would apply the clamps to him. I won't type his name here.
At a certain point, the scientifically-affirmed dangers of sun exposure changed everyone's attitude about tans. My generation whimpered into a corner about that. Today the idea is to be protected when you're outdoors in summer. Be under some type of canopy. Get all the fresh air you want - that's great - but protect your skin from sun abuse that could lead to cancer.
My generation would be reluctant to admit much about our past values. I'm an exception writing this post. But I've always felt like an outlier relative to my generation.
I thought it was ridiculous, all the self-destructive behavior we put our imprimatur on, when young. Loud stereo music on expensive systems, which were status symbols, keeping our classmates awake at night. It was socially discouraged to complain about loud stereo music. This scourge was embraced by our young culture. Be ready to hear the Edgar Winter Group's "Frankenstein" play when you're trying to sleep. Watch your peers go to the downtown bars on weekends. This despite the fact these kids pleaded poverty all the time, like they had no money to spend. Where did the money come from to support their wasteful behavior? Hey, let's go to the "Cantina." There was free popcorn, I guess. Listen to Starbuck's "Moonlight Feels Right" on the jukebox. You know why this song hooked us? It was because of the little instrumental fill after the hook line.
I wandered about a bit in this sea of debauchery. I knew what it was like to sit at a table and occasionally "buy a round" and get a wave of thank yous from everyone. We watched shallow TV shows like "Happy Days." This time of year we'd be appreciating the extent of the tan we had achieved. We equated this with sexiness. In the old days it was associated with field labor. Today it's associated with cancer risk. Buy my oh my, my generation sure made its mark with the values it chose, whether counterproductive or not.
And hey, it could have been worse: what if we had supported the Viet Nam war? What if we had been lackadaisical about racism and sexism? So we were forward-looking in some respects. We were also disingenuous or schizophrenic or something like that, because we were all too ready to discard the left-leaning political philosophy we once had. We planted the seeds for the "tea party." We went from not caring much about money to being totally money-grubbing. We have done much to ensure we have Republican leadership in all three branches of government, meaning there is absolutely no hope for the time being of getting humanistic health care reform. People will die because of our foot-dragging. Children will die.
We were the ones who thought it was so unconscionable for 60,000 young men to die in Viet Nam. We shift and ruminate at least on a subconscious level. That's because we are so human an animal. But no more do our daughters seek to get the moniker "Miss Lobster." That was cute, John.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

Thursday, August 3, 2017

A cup of coffee and thoughts re. mortality

God bless our old Radarage "Cookmaster" microwave oven, by Amana. It's ancient. So simple to operate. Just a few buttons to deal with. So contrary to the trends of today. I see microwave ovens for sale today and there are all kinds of buttons to push. Our old Radarage is like a rock I can depend on. I approach it every morning at 5 a.m., give or take an hour, and prepare my hot morning instant coffee that activates my mental function.
My mother doesn't drink coffee and it was ditto with Dad. Mom has wheat bran flakes, the store brand from Willie's, every morning. Dad enjoyed his raisin bran. Our dog Sandy had his Cesar's dog food. Dad knew that as soon as I got in my recliner, Sandy would come along within seconds and ask to be fed. It became a morning gag in our household. We had Robin Meade of the HLN network on TV in front of us.
These days I watch "Morning Joe" with Joe and Mika - I'm not going to review the spelling of Mika's last name - discussing the notorious issues associated with Donald Trump and his administration. Is it Watergate redux? No one can predict of course.
Mom is 93 years old. Home health nurses visit us. I have never bet against my mother living longer. But of course no one lives forever. I am thankful she does not have the kind of cancer pain issues that I have long been familiar with through acquaintances. I am told that weakness will set in. As I write this, I sense that process is underway. She has enjoyed life to a great extent since coming home from Barrett Care Center.
We were in Barrett so long, it really did start feeling like home. I miss many of the people we shared time with there. Some of them, I'm sure, thought I was a little too overbearing or involved as a caregiver. Some of them seemed to like me totally and that's nice. A fellow caregiver who was also there a lot said to me: "You keep close watch on your mother all the time, and they (staff) don't like that." Perhaps staff fears I'll file some sort of complaint based on an alleged misstep in care. Nursing home residents present a heckuva challenge, and I fully support and admire those who work at these institutions.
Mom, in spite of her challenges, has enjoyed life just fine since coming home from Barrett. We have gone to church regularly along with the Wednesday night ELCA Lutheran sessions at the Met Lounge side room. Bridget serves us wonderfully there. Church at the Met Lounge? We must emphasize it's the side room.
It has always been folly trying to predict how much longer Mom will be with us. She will leave this life and join her husband Ralph in heaven. There she can play the "UMM Hymn" on the piano for Dad's enjoyment.
Mom will also join her sister Mildred and brother Edwin. Mildred of Oregon passed away a couple years ago from esophageal cancer - an unfortunate way to die. She was under the care of home hospice at the end, just like Mom is now. She stayed at the home of her stepdaughter and her husband. Aunt Mildred's husband was Ray Riedberger who had Hawley MN roots. She had a first marriage that produced five children but ended sadly. Let's just leave it at that. Many years passed before I saw any of those cousins again.
Edwin of San Diego had a son, Norman, who won high honors for his service in Viet Nam. My father always wondered if Norman had to do some very unpleasant things to win that. Norman had a twin brother Allan. Norman died of a heart attack several years ago. I regret not seeing more of them over the years. So, Norman will be in heaven awaiting my mother too.
My mother never liked it when I swore, so when she passes to the next life, I will have to resolve to never again utter a cuss word. I will have to remember to keep attending church like the Jimmy Stewart character in "Shenandoah," honoring his late wife's wishes. Stewart would sometimes go to his wife's gravesite and "converse" with her. I asked Del Sarlette once whether this kind of thing is normal or proper. Del said "yes" but he added: "Don't get too carried away with it."
Aunt Mildred was cremated and there was no service and not even an obituary. I will have no problems going that route again.
People come and go in this life. But our Radarage cooker is certain to go on forever, just like the cockroaches and Cher (according to the old joke). Indeed, contemporary products are made more complicated than their predecessors. Dave Barry wrote a column about this. He was inspired by an article he read quoting industry leaders lamenting the fact that consumers don't seem to spend enough time reading their owner's manuals. Barry sided with the consumers, writing that "products are made with too many functions, whereas people buy them to do one or two things." He talked about the "picture within a picture" feature of TVs made at the time. "It's hard enough to find one good thing to watch on TV," Barry quipped.
(Remember how "Radarage" inspired a bit of humor in the movie "Airplane?")
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com