The Permanent Family Record
DebK of Rosemount: “Following this past weekend’s outdoor wedding, members of the Dunn family have (mostly) returned to their homes in the far corners of the nation. They left refreshed in their appreciation of the glories of rhubarb and of the vagaries of Minnesota weather. And most of us were awakened belatedly to the astonishing resemblance between Randy (‘the Baby’ who grew up to be a drill sergeant) and Grandma Jennie, Dad’s formidable (and bulky) mother.
“It was Black Ewe and moi who initially experienced this epiphany, which occurred during a power outage caused by a storm that tore through Rice County the evening before a long-planned gathering of the entire clan.
“Since electricity was not available to facilitate the prep work needed for several of the dishes I planned to serve, Black Ewe and I pulled out the family cookbook/memoir in search of recipes that might be put together the next morning, by which time power would likely have been restored. As always happens when we dig into our family book, we were waylaid by the stories and photos that punctuate the volume. In particular, it was the wedding portrait (circa 1915) of our paternal grandparents that caught our attention. Black Ewe and I were laughing (as we have done countless times before) at the unlikely pairing of the Hollywood-good-looking Bert Dunn and the . . . substantial… Jennie Ware, when we were struck simultaneously by the flabbergasting resemblance of our burly brother, who was sitting at the kitchen counter with us, to Grandma Jennie. Having for decades casually noted that Randy was increasingly becoming a Dad-look-alike, we somehow failed to recognize that Randy had in truth grown up to be a dead ringer for our dour and . . . substantial . . . grandmother. We did our best to make up for lost time. While I rounded up the rest of the family, Black Ewe carefully placed her fingertips on the photo, obscuring Grandma’s ‘ear buns,’ leaving her with a near-exact replica of Randy’s U.S. Army coiffure and further dramatizing the resemblance, which was raucously appreciated by the entire assembly, with the notable exception of Randy himself.
“The comic value of our discovery endured into the following day, when Black Ewe frequently absented herself from sous-chef duties in order to regale the cousins and in-laws as they arrived to join us. The wife of one of our nephews spent quite a long time examining the wedding photo, but instead of doubling over with laughter as had the rest of us, she offered an insight: ‘I suppose land was involved in this match.'”
Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “While visiting relatives at Calvary Cemetery in St. Paul over Memorial Day weekend, I came across this unique wreath and these flags. They were decorating a section of the cemetery where servicemen are buried who served in World War II, the Korean War and possibly also World War I.
“Thank you to whoever did this — and of course also to those who gave their lives in the service of our country.”
Or: What is right with people?
From Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Subject: Guarding kids.
“On Memorial Day, I drove up to the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post to get away from the heat, etc. My GPS was confusing, so I just headed north on I-35 — and ended up in a very small town off I-35.
“When I stopped at a gas station/store to check a paper-based (!) Minnesota map, I decided to use the bathroom — just in case. I found myself in a line for the single rest room. One guy in line gave off vibes that troubled me, and made me glad that I was wearing a flag shirt. The presence of a family speaking mainly a foreign language concerned me.
“The family included three young teenaged girls who wanted soft-serve shakes — and didn’t seem familiar with the machine. I decided to Auntie Kathy them. As they came in one by one, I followed and explained the sizes and costs, and how to add chocolate and spoons. The youngest one clutched $2 for her shake, but didn’t realize that she needed more for taxes. So I dug out coins for the tax. As she left, an older sister came in. She understood about taxes, but I paid for it for her, too. Kids are always broke.
“Once all three girls were safely back at their car, I waved and smiled at the older woman in charge. She (and the folks behind the counter) seemed to understand why I auntied the kids. We all took off, and I headed west to Mille Lacs Lake.
“I hope the girls never need to know why I took a few minutes to show them a few of the ropes, and to ease the transactions. We can all be guardian angels, at times.”
Joy of Juxtaposition
Fevered Rabbit: “Subject: Serendipity.
“Awhile back, I shopped a library sale; the books were $1 per bag. I tend to buy lots of books when they are priced such. It’s almost like getting them for free.
“I buy books written by favorite authors. I buy reference books that have some sort of appeal to me. I buy biographies, autobiographies, memoirs. I buy replacements for books I’ve worn out.
“I took the books home and sorted through them. There are many I would like to read and evaluate before I add them to my personal library. If they are not something I would reread, I will pass them on to others.
“At one point I glanced at the floor next to my ottoman. There sat two books. On top was a book titled ‘Shooting Star.’ Underneath it was a book titled ‘Shooting Star.’ No, they are not duplicates. One is a biography of John Wayne, written by Maurice Zolotov. The other is a novel by Brock & Bodie Thoene, part of their ‘Saga of the Sierras’ series.
“Same title, two different genres. Once they are shelved, they will likely never be together. I doubt I would have caught the repetition of the titles.
“I celebrated the serendipity.”
Our theater of seasons
Including: Could be verse!
Tuesday email: “Raindancer of North Oaks, waxing topically on this tropical morning:
“Springtime phloxes, so cheerfully do they grow
“Places that recently were buried under snow.”
Our theater of seasons
Mounds View Swede: “The recent, much-needed rain, along with the July warmth, has really gotten my plants bursting with growth. The bridal wreath blossoms have exploded in blooms.
“I was trying to capture some blossoms with raindrops on them, but most of the drops don’t show up well.
“All those round, reddish maple buds have turned into leaves.
“I was wondering if I should begin watering the lawn and trees, but nature has taken care of the concern for now. We’ve gotten about .7 inches in the last two days of rain. Those brown patches of lawn have greened up and grown, so I don’t have to wonder about the seeding process.
“It is satisfying and amazing to see how quickly my many hostas have responded to these showers. The gardens are almost ready to photograph. Going from bare branches and empty gardens to what we now have — and doing it pretty quickly — is awesome to me. I hope you are all enjoying this spring. A month ago we still had snow, and now this! Yay!”
Mounds View Swede again, later: “I did a photo survey of nearby blooms to see what was happening after our recent rains and continued warmth. The plants that blossom early were hard at it, and each had traces of spidery webs on the blossoms. I wonder about their purpose and how they get there.
“I had one Dianthus that was blossoming and with more buds getting ready.
“Hundreds of bleeding hearts were showing.
“And I remembered the Forget-Me-Nots — which have spread, to my delight.
“The Candy Tufts have spread, too, with mounds of white blossoms.
“And one of my neighbor’s Irises had some nice blossoms.
“I always get the impression they are sticking out their tongue at me, but what a beautiful tongue! My Siberian Irises have not sent up any stems yet, just a lot of leaves.
“It has been a beautiful spring, blossom-wise. Now I have to get my annuals selected and planted, if I can get a comfortable morning with shade to work in.
“It has been good to get back to outdoor yard work. My ‘farming’ heritage from my Swedish great-grandparents still shows up in me.”
Another close encounter of the natural kind, reported by Dolly Dimples: “There are some new kids on the block. Every year, we have our share of gray squirrels vying with the birds for their turn on the bird feeder. This spring is no exception. But I did a double-take the other morning when I noticed a different-colored squirrel. His body was gray, like the usual squirrel we see around here, and his chest was white, but his tail was a bushy flame of red fur. Soon he was joined by another, similar-colored squirrel. They were not buddies, as they engaged in a little scrap that resulted in one of them plunging to the ground. I have observed this kind of jousting by the squirrels for feeder space many times. The loser seems none the worse for his drop of 10 feet.
“A bit of research informed me they are fox squirrels and common in many states. But this is the first time I ever saw one around here.”
The Permanent Neighborsly Record
Tim Torkildson: “Subject: The House Next Door.
“I grew up in a very stable and immovable neighborhood. The denizens of 19th Avenue Southeast in Minneapolis had moved in early, and did not plan on moving out until they were carried out feet first (hopefully after the mortgage had been paid off.)
“There was none of this modern helter-skelter moving from pillar to post. I don’t know if it’s better to call it ‘putting down roots’ or ‘being shackled to the same place,’ but only capricious vagabonds moved more than once every quarter-century. A ‘For Sale’ sign or a ‘For Rent’ sign was as rare as a palm tree in our neighborhood. This was a direct reaction to the Great Depression (when ordinary people couldn’t make the rent, so they sneaked out a window in the middle of the night to find a cheaper place to live with a more patient landlord) and World War II (when the draft took so many men away that it unsettled everyone else to the point where they hitchhiked around the country to different military camps looking for work on base — and lived off base). Or so said my mother, who prided herself somewhat as a social historian of those times. Her conclusion, based on these earlier historical trends, was simple: Stay Put. There is safety with inertia. Gypsies and Communists are two sides of the same coin.
“But then there was the house next-door to ours. The owners rented it out to graduate students at the University of Minnesota who had families. So we had new neighbors every few years. This didn’t bother my dad one quark. His motto was ‘Mind Your Own Damn Business.’ He didn’t care if the house next door was burning down; he was going to sit in his easy chair and watch ‘Gunsmoke,’ and that was that.
“Mom, on the other hand, took a dim view of having to adjust to new people, often from foreign parts, every few years. I’m not calling her bigoted or parochial; she just wanted a homogenized and pasteurized community, for her children’s sake. She herself had had enough experiences with odd and sinister characters while growing up, and they still popped up occasionally when Dad would bring home some barfly comrade from Aarone’s Bar and Grill, where he tended the taps — like a boy brings home a stray dog, hoping he can keep it. Dad seriously thought that some of these rummies could be safely stowed in the garage on a cot and function as his sidekick, uncapping his beer bottles and running to the store for cigarettes. Mom had to use her Death Stare at full force to discourage this tendency in him.
“The first family I can remember renting the house next door was from Sweden. They stand out in my memory only because their two kids, a boy and a girl, were blond, blue-eyed twins who liked to throw things at me: twigs; rocks; toys; an occasional uprooted plant. My dad called them Frick & Frack, and they threw things at him, too. In fact, they tossed stuff at everyone, including the Welcome Wagon lady who showed up on their doorstep a few days after they were settled in. Cautiously peeping from my own front porch, I witnessed the assault unfold. The mother, who spoke no English, answered the doorbell and stood smiling in mute incomprehension while the Welcome Wagon hostess made her spiel and presented the large wicker basket. Frick & Frack politely took the basket from their mother, set it down, slowly stripped off the cellophane wrapping, and began silently pelting the poor hostess with bars of perfumed soap, Brillo pads, coupon books, and packets of Kleenex. It’s a good thing there were no canned goods in that wicker basket!
“The Welcome Wagon hostess retreated to her car, strewing the air with some pretty unwelcoming language, and drove off in a hurry.
“The next family I recall had six kids. The father was in the military and attended the U of M for some kind of hush-hush advanced Cold War training — learning how to make exploding cigars for Castro, or some such fiddle-faddle. The mother raised her clamoring brood with a firm hand, but they had a huge dog that got out of the yard one fall afternoon, loped down the alley, and ate old Mrs. Henderson’s Yorkshire terrier. Or so said Mom when the dog catcher came by to pick up the beast next day. Greatly embarrassed, the whole family moved into the student housing quonset huts down on Como Avenue a few weeks later.
“Most magnificent of all was the family that came from Cameroon in Africa. They were tall people. The father towered over my dad by a good half-foot, and the mother could look over the top of my mother’s head without getting on her tiptoes. He wore a yellow kaftan with black horizontal zigzag lines, with a bell-boy hat to match. And boy, could he speak the language! They’d come directly from Oxford, where he’d garnered an advanced degree in higher mathematics, and spoke precise, clipped English with an accent that was the uppermost crust of the upper crust, old bean. They were classy people. No sitting on the front porch of an evening in T-shirt, dungarees, and flip-flops, sucking on a beer can and belching. No, sir. The whole family attended St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church — not just on Sundays, but also several evenings a week — where I suspect they were encouraged to spread Christian civilization among the heathens, meaning my own déclassé family, probably.
“I forget how many kids they had, since they all went to a private school — no grody public education for them! I remember that one of the boys, about my age, invited me over to play chess. I was in the seventh grade, and barely understood how to play Chinese checkers. Their living-room walls were covered with carved wooden masks, of some kind of odoriferous wood that made me sneeze violently. When it became obvious I hadn’t the capacity to learn how to play even a rudimentary game of chess, I was invited into the kitchen for cucumber sandwiches and a spot of Marmite. Not one lousy potato chip in sight.
“The last transient family in the house next door was certainly an anomaly for the early 1960s: a single mother working on her Master’s in Social Work, and her one daughter, Shirley. Our street was crammed cheek by jowl with nothing but stay-at-home moms — but something about this lone woman struggling for an advanced degree while caring for her daughter resonated deeply with them, and they fell all over themselves being the kind of neighborly folk you might meet in Mayberry, but nowhere else. She was inundated with hearty casseroles and thick slabs of dessert bars, ‘so you don’t have to wear yourself out cooking after a long day at school, dear.’
“Shirley was in the same grade as I was at Marshall High School, so I saw a lot of her. She had long brown mousy hair, freckles, and a soft brooding expression that could light up into a heady smile in a second. She played the guitar, and in the summer she would often sit out on her front porch strumming those early Dylan tunes, like ‘Blowin’ in the Wind,’ that adults thought were Kremlin-inspired blasphemy. And although I still thought of girls as suspicious agents bent on some kind of worldwide conspiracy to hector or embarrass me to death, Shirley obviously had defected from that evil organization. She seemed to like it when I came over to listen to her play the guitar. Her mom brought out iced tea for us. She began to disturb me, and I started to obsess about her in a sweaty Peter Lorre kind of way. I couldn’t act normal around her (not that I ever acted normal most of the time, anyway) and was tongue-tied and diffident when trying to talk to her. One evening I finally managed to blurt out ‘You sure play good. I could listen to you all night.’ She gave me a brilliant smile, then took my hand. We silently held hands as the twilight melted into darkness. And then, seeing Venus (I suppose it was) on the black rim of the sky, I recited to Shirley: ‘Star light star bright / First star I see tonight / I wish I may I wish I might / Have the wish I wish tonight.’
“‘What are you gonna wish for, Tim?’ she asked me.
“‘A kiss from you.’
“‘OK. But just one.’
“Afterwards her mother brought out a second pitcher of iced tea, even though we had barely touched the first pitcher. She went back inside to turn on the porch light, then joined us, sitting in a rattan chair that was unraveling like an old bale of hay. She fanned herself with a section of the Minneapolis Tribune and asked pleasantly: ‘Well, what have you kids been talking about out here all night?’
“Stupefied by the sudden rush of hormones circulating through our bodies, neither Shirley nor I could frame a comprehensible reply. I think I finally managed something like ‘Duh, yup’ in a voice like that of Pinto Colvig, and then stumbled back home.
“That was the only kiss I got from Shirley, because within a week their rented house had been sold right out from under them. The new owners wanted to take immediate possession. They had to find a new place, pronto. It turned out to be an apartment in the wilds of Roseville, beyond that last bastion of civilization, Apache Plaza. I helped Shirley carry boxes into their Volkswagen van, and waved wanly at its dwindling backside. We hadn’t exchanged phone numbers or addresses or anything. The whole thing was one of those sudden, crushing blows that make the universe seem uncaring, or even malign.
“That was a long time ago, but the poignancy is still sharp. Think I’ll go drown my sorrows with a generous slug of Metamucil. . . .”
Vanity, thy name is . . .
Donald: “This was the personalized Minnesota plate on an Explorer in the parking lot at a medical facility: ‘LET.’
“A tennis player?”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Our guess is more pedestrian (so to speak). We’re guessing: the owner’s initials. Dull, yes, but that’s our guess.
We saw a great one just today: “ITC BTC.” Alas, it was not on one of those three-wheeled motorcycles called a Spyder.
So . . . worse than, like, y’know, sort of tons of iconic . . . whatever
The Linguidiot writes: “Subject: Enough.
“My patience reached its end while watching TV news today. Can we please ban the phrase ‘going forward,’ used to describe future actions? English verbs conveniently conjugate to let everyone know if we’re talking about past, present or future. And ‘. . . going forward in the future’ — yes, I’ve heard it more than a couple of times — is just an abomination of epic proportions.”
The vision thing
Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul: “Subject: What a difference a letter makes.
“The headline in ‘BUSINESS’ of a recent issue of the Pioneer Press read: ‘Buffett lunch is again at auction.’
“‘What’s the big deal?’ I thought. ‘So, someone’s auctioning off a meal. Why is that news?’
“‘Wait a minute — Buffett . . . buffet. Sorry, Warren.’
“The first and third paragraphs answered all my questions:
“‘Billionaire Warren Buffett is preparing to auction off another private lunch to raise money for a homeless charity in San Francisco.’
“‘Last year’s winner got a relative bargain by paying $2,679,001 for the lunch. The record price for the auction is $3,456,789 that winners paid in 2016 and 2012.’
“I don’t think I’ll be making a bid.”
Everyone’s a copy editor!
B. Dazzled of South St. Paul: “Subject: From our beloved local South Metro publication:
“They may also forget their news-editing skills. . . .
“And by the way, I wonder how the new crop of Super Bowl volunteers is doing after our long, cold winter?”
Lies, damned lies, and statistics
The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Good news / bad news!
“I love to hear people quote statistics. I took a college course once called ‘Elements of Statistics.’ Very complicated, in my opinion; very mistake-friendly, too, I always thought.
“One of my favorite old sayings is that 47 percent of statistics are made up on-the-spot. That could well be, considering probably no one will check to see if I’m right — and even if they do, I’ll say it changed since I made the claim. Statistics are a convenient, often unchallenged, anonymous source to support any argument.
“That prompts me to tender this statistic, which could benefit either side of a safety question: Motorcyclists who wear helmets are 100 times more likely to have more than one serious accident. Chances are (100 percent) Evel Knievel knew this.”
Our birds, ourselves
Ask Al B Division
Barbara of Afton: “Subject: Bird behavior.
“This is a question for Al B of Hartland [Bulletin Board’s Official Ornithologist].
“Today I saw a male and a female cardinal in the pine tree outside my window. They looked as if they were kissing. I’m wondering if they were feeding each other and whether this is mating behavior.
“Today I finally saw an oriole. I know they are eating from the oriole feeder, but hadn’t seen one until today, as it tried to figure out how to get nectar from the hummingbird feeder.”
Keeping your eyes open
Al B of Hartland reports: “There were two multi-colored Asian lady beetles on my car as I left home. The one riding on the windshield managed to stay in place for 80 miles. The one clinging to the driver’s-side window hung on for 107 miles. That was almost as impressive as the driver of the pickup truck ahead of me on a two-lane road who kept his right turn signal on for 27 miles.”
The Permanent Granddaughterly Record
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Practical science.
“Fourth-grader Eve brought home some materials she and Mom had discussed with the teacher during their conference.
“One group of stapled papers comprised the procedures and results of an experiment conducted by Eve and three other members of a team. The title of the assignment was: ‘Prairie Pollinators.’
“This was a question from the second paragraph of the page labeled ‘Discussion’ (it was hand-written): ‘Will more pollinators go to the white flowers verses (sic) the yellow flowers?’
“This was the scientific reply: ‘I would do each flower as a group so there would be more eyes to watch because if someone had to go to the bathroom there would still be more eyes watching. But if we all hade (sic) to go to the bathroom we would take turns like one at a time. . . .'”
Band Name of the Day: The Death Stares
Website of the Day: Frick & Frack