The Greatest Generation
KMarie writes: “The activities manager of the care center at Atrium Village, where my mother lives, occasionally requests me to play piano music. I’ve found books of popular songs from the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, as some of the residents, including my mother, are over 100 years old. My daughter joked that perhaps my music isn’t old enough for this crowd.
“One day I played a series of lively songs from the ’30s, and one old gal sang along and tapped her feet to every single song. I thought: ‘Now, there’s a former party girl. She probably hit all the local dances in the county back in her day!’
“Recently they were celebrating Patriotic Week, and I was asked to play all patriotic songs. I started with ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ I heard behind me the elderly residents from The Greatest Generation struggle to stand up from their wheelchairs and walkers. I don’t think I’ll play the National Anthem again at this place, because I doubt if I could get them to stay seated.
“It’s not hard to find an hour’s worth of patriotic songs, and I wrapped it up with their all-time favorite: ‘God Bless America.’ When I finished, the elderly residents in wheelchairs and walkers all continued to sing, so I had to play it another time while their voices rang behind me: ‘God Bless America! Our home sweet home!’
“Thank you, BB, for letting me share my little story.”
Life (and death) as we know it
The Astronomer of Nininger: “With Veterans Day here, I thought seriously about veterans and the sacrifices they made. Books have been written about what they did. But too often we forget that their spouses made sometimes even greater sacrifices — staying home, caring for children, keeping the home fires burning. They deserve every bit as much recognition as those who formally served.
“People did different things. Sometimes it was the circumstances. Some had jobs that were critical, and others did not have much glory connected to their service. But they were all essential to the defense of freedom.
“I recall one whose name was similar to John Wayne. My son, just a little tot, could not pronounce his given name, but called him ‘John Wayne.’ I thought that surely there is a little bit of John Wayne in all the people who served.
“Retention is important, but a general told me that he was not concerned about good men and women leaving the service. America needs them in all walks of life. Of those I served with, one went on to become CEO of General Motors, another the head of FedEx, and so on. Some became airline pilots; some went back to the farm; and so on.
“Whatever they went on to do made America stronger. They took a little bit of John Wayne with them. John Wayne was in countless movies about wars and fighting men. He never was in the service, but he showed us the best of those who served. God bless them all. And God bless America!”
The Permanent Paternal Record
Suzanne Larson Walters of New Brighton: “Subject: Remember Veterans Day!
“Our dad, Adolph ‘Mr. Baseball’ Larson, joined the Navy in 1943. He completed Navy Basic Training in San Diego, and then went to Morro Bay for further training with a crew for an LCVP, which ultimately took part in the Okinawa invasion, in April 1945.
“He is second from right, with his crew mates.”
The Flu to End All Flus?
Dan Hanneman of Maplewood writes: “Subject: The Flu Pandemic of 1918.
“This November, dignitaries will gather in Paris to mark the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended World War I. Sadly, we will also be marking the anniversary of the 1917-18 flu pandemic and the enormous toll it took. The pandemic is sometimes called the ‘Spanish Flu Epidemic,’ but its origins are uncertain. It was apparently brought to the United States from France and first showed up at Fort Riley in Kansas. At the time, world population was around 1.8 billion. Exact numbers are unknown, but it’s believed the flu infected 500 million worldwide and left between 50 million and 100 million dead. For the United States, the death toll has been estimated at between 500,00 and 675,000. In Minnesota there were 12,000 victims, at a time when the state had just under 2 million residents. The deadliest month of the pandemic was October 1918. Within two months it had essentially disappeared.
“One of the victims was my grandmother, Josephine Meuleners Dols, who was born October 14, 1884, in Cologne, Minnesota, and had just turned 34 when she died October 29, 1918, in South St. Paul.
“Josephine was one of five daughters born to Joseph Meuleners (born 1856 in Nieuwstadt, Limburg Province, Netherlands) and Katherine Roeser Meuleners (born 1864 in Antwerp, Belgium). I believe they married in St. Hubert’s Church in Chanhassen. Of the five girls, two, Caroline and Elizabeth, died young, while Joseph Meuleners, the father, passed away in 1890 from what may have been typhoid fever. He had been a saloonkeeper in Cologne as well as a road-work contractor.
“The three surviving daughters were Barbara, Josephine and Clara. Josephine was married in October 1913 at St. Augustine’s Church in South St. Paul and a year later gave birth to the first of three daughters, Henrietta. In 1916, the next daughter, Dorothea (who was my mother) came along, and on October 15, 1918, the last daughter, Magdalen, was born.
“Two weeks later, Josephine was dead. To die from this particular type of flu was a
terrible and horrible thing. The flu inevitably brought on pneumonia. The victim’s lungs filled with fluid. The result, within just a few days of contracting the illness, would be asphyxiation or, literally, death by drowning.
“And so, the three little girls had lost their mother. Luckily, they had a large extended family, and for a while they were cared for by their grandmother, Katherine. The oldest and the youngest, Henrietta and Magdalen, eventually went to live with their father and his second wife, but the middle child, Dorothea, was adopted by Josephine’s sister,
Barbara, and her husband, Michael Rath. Years later, perhaps around 1986, my mother wrote: ‘My mother Barbara felt that Jo had a premonition that she would not survive her third childbirth. Sister Jo asked Barbara that, if anything happened to her, she would take me. I was legally adopted by the Raths and became a member of their family. Jo is buried
in Calvary Cemetery.”
“Dorothea (who absolutely hated being called Dot or Dotty and was a dedicated gardener) died on Christmas Eve 1995; Henrietta (who worked as a secretary for Harold Stassen during his World War II years in Washington, D.C.) passed away a few years later; and Magdalen died November 23, 2014, aged 96, having lost her mother just two weeks after being born in a long-ago, almost-forgotten tragedy that is a part of our history.”
The Permanent Family Record
The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “My dad was forever losing things: the article he had clipped out of the paper, his fountain pen, the tool he needed . . . and always he hunted for his cap. Although Dad never said he ‘lost it,’ he always shouted: ‘Who in hell stole my (insert item here) THIS time?’
“It was amazing how fast his cap could vanish into thin air from the time Dad walked through the door and took it off his head. It was always a mystery as to where it might have landed.
“One particular morning, he led my mother a merry chase trying to track down his cap; any old cap would do. He had purchased many replacements over the years, but not a one could be found. The hunt was still in full swing when my sister Nora and I left to catch the Greyhound bus to go to work.
“When Nora and I arrived home that day, we found Mom in a gleeful mood, attaching another cap to the 40 or so she had already pinned to the clothesline she had strung from the back door all the way across our kitchen to the phone booth in the bedroom hallway. Mother had spent the entire day hunting for Dad’s ‘stolen’ caps.
“Dad came home from work (wearing a decrepit old cap he had found among the flotsam on the floor of his car), and he did a classic double-take when he saw that clothesline. Her joke went well; Dad snickered all though dinner as he gazed up at the assortment of caps hanging over our heads. In fact, it went too well. Dad thought it was such a ‘helluva swell’ idea that he wanted to keep the clothesline up so he could keep all his caps readily available.”
Our pests, ourselves
Or: The Permanent Family Record
Friendly Bob of Fridley: “Of mice (or rats) and men.
“The stories about mice brought to mind an old memory for me. It involved one of my late older brothers (I have three of those now) when I was growing up on the farm. Donnie died of cancer when his younger daughter (Bethany) was only about 7 years old, so a few years ago when we went to visit her (and her older sister and mother) she wanted to hear stories about the father she never got to know much. So I told her about this incident:
“Donnie and I were shoveling out the last of the on-the-cob corn from a corner of a granary bin. We knew full well that mice and rats would hide in whatever was left until they had no choice but to show themselves, so we had at the ready, besides our scoop shovels, a pitchfork to dispatch any unwelcome guests. Mice could be taken care of with a firm swat from the shovel, but the rats were tougher, and I always preferred the pitchfork, (I hated rats, anyway — mice were more of a dirty nuisance.)
“Well, sure as shootin’, as we got to the very end of the corn pile, several mice popped out, and I took care of them with the shovel. Then a BIG rat emerged . . . and went directly up Donnie’s pant leg. That still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Donnie was a large man, but he showed me a great move when, in one quick swipe across his belt line, he undid the belt and dropped trou before the rat had made it all
the way up. I remember the sight of the ugly rat leaping off the top of the lowered pants, but I started laughing so hard that I do not know whether that rodent made its getaway or not.
“Bethany said she had never heard that story, and was glad to have us tell her that one and others.”
The Permanent Paternal Record
Or: The great comebacks
Rusty of St. Paul: “My father was 86 when he moved to the old folks’ home. There was only a handful of men living there, and not many of them shared his interests.
“He did strike up a friendship with one of the fellows, but it didn’t last long. I asked Dad why. He said: ‘He was 103.'”
Life as we know it
Writes The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: So sayeth The Doryman.
“The day goes fast when you’re two hours late for work.”
There’s nothin’ like a simile!
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “Subject: Is the baseball season over already? [Bulletin Board says: Well, this is one of those good news/bad news deals. Yes, the baseball season is over. No, it hasn’t yet begun. Wait till next year!]
“This was the November 3rd item on my Sports Page-a-Day calendar: ‘Catcher Doug Mirabelli once said: “Trying to catch a knuckleball is like trying to catch a butterfly with a waffle iron.”‘”
Donald: “On last Wednesday’s front page of the Sports section of the paper west of St. Paul, Jim Souhan devoted his column to explaining why interest in MLB is waning. Two excerpts:
“(1) ‘The tug-of-war between baseball and football for American hearts, minds, eyeballs and clicks ended long ago, with football dragging baseball along like a tin can behind a wedding limousine.’ [Bulletin Board notes: That’s a very odd-looking tug-of-war!]
“(2) ‘Games are longer and yet contain less action. Going to a baseball game these days is like going to see The Rock in an action movie and having him pause every five minutes to read Hamlet soliloquies.’”
BULLETIN BOARD MUSES: To write a labored simile, or not to write a labored simile — that is the question. (And the answer? Not to.)
Everyone’s a copy editor!
Leading to: The vision thing
Semi-Legend: “Subject: Play tapas for me.
“Frederick Melo’s tender story in the Pioneer Press caught my eye: St. Agatha’s Conservatory of Music and Art at 26 E. Exchange Street in downtown St. Paul will be converted to the Celeste St. Paul Hotel and Bar.
“Then this caught my other eye: ‘Publicity materials say to expect bartenders clad in white jackets and tapas, or light appetizers.’ Olives as epaulettes, maybe.”
What’s in a (product) name?
LeoJEOSP writes: “While shopping at the local ginormous warehouse, I went past a display of a product called Smart Water. I had a thought that led to a question. But first, a qualifier: When city water is known to be bad, bottled water is a lifesaver. But you need to know that paying $5 for 12 bottles of water is costing 300 percent more (at least) than tap water.
“Back to my question: If you drink Smart Water prior to going shopping, will you be smart enough to not purchase a product that costs 300 percent more than a nearly free alternative?”
Al B of Hartland reports: “There I was, standing and looking as if I were someone looking at chickens. Which is what I was doing. It’s a fine way to pass the time. I was peering at 4-H chickens at a county fair. They were Cochin hens. Big and friendly, they’ve inspired many people to get backyard chickens.
“Another fellow was looking at the same poultry. He said he didn’t like chickens. I asked him why. He said that when he was a boy, he had to carry struggling roosters to his grandmother so she could turn them into Sunday dinners. He didn’t like chickens because those roosters insisted on pecking him when he carried them to slaughter. Go figure.”
Our birds, ourselves
And: The highfalutin pleasures
Wild Bill of River Falls, Wisconsin: “Sometimes the trail camera snaps at just the right moment. I call this ‘Get off my suet!’ or ‘Chickadee Wars.’
“The chickadee on the left looks positively furious.”
Not exactly what they had in mind
Dolly Dimples: “The Halloween Trick That Backfired:
“Sometimes kids use their impulses instead of their brains. That’s what took place with my friend Esther and me many years ago. My brother, who was eight years older than I, gave us a hard time occasionally; we decided Halloween would be a good time to repay him. We mulled over our options and decided soaping his car windows would be good revenge. He always parked his car behind our garage, so we would be unseen as we did our dirty work. We couldn’t locate any soap in the garage, so we settled on using wax — paraffin, actually. We gleefully scribbled and drew designs on the windows, then backed up and admired our handiwork before we went into the house. Awhile later, my brother exited the house, planning to meet some friends. It wasn’t long before he exploded back into the house, demanding to know who had messed up his car windows. Immediately he zeroed in on us; of course, we denied any and all responsibility. I think our giggling and furtive glances at each other doomed us. I can’t remember what he threatened to do if we didn’t go out immediately and scrape off the wax, but it was severe enough to motivate us to undo our mischief as quickly as possible. We gathered rags, blades and scouring powder and set to work scraping and scrubbing until not a speck of wax was left on the windows. And we swore to never, ever play that kind of trick on anyone again.
“Back in the day, I can’t recall going trick-or-treating, as is today’s custom. What I remember was that some kids were mean and played harmful pranks. One group of rowdies strewed tacks all over one of our neighborhood streets, hoping cars would get flat tires. Others pulled the trolleys off the streetcar electric lines, so the cars would lose power as they struggled to drive up the hill on Pascal Street north of Midway Parkway. When the motorman would go to the back of the streetcar to reattach the trolley, the kids would laugh and run — and maybe repeat their trick, to the frustration of the poor motorman. In that same area, Frankson Avenue crossed Pascal. There was a grocery store on that corner and an outhouse in back. The mean kids thought it great fun to topple the outhouse and watch it tumble down the hill. There probably were good celebrations taking place, but these long-ago incidents impressed me at my young age, and I carry those memories forever.”
Vanity, thy name is . . .
Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul: “As I searched for a parking spot in the Lunds/Byerly’s lot adjacent to the White Bear Lake water tower on Centerville Road, I passed a car with this personalized plate: ‘MATHMAN.’
“I knew it couldn’t be the Lone Ranger, but still . . .”
Donald: “Subject: Are they just blowing smoke?
“From the ‘SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE’ in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated: ‘Students at the University of Miami started a petition to change the school’s mascot logo by replacing Sebastian the Ibis’s pipe with a vape.’”
Our theater of seasons
Pictures and haiku by Tim Torkildson:
Our theater of seasons (responsorial)
Raindancer of North Oaks: “What I learned about trees, I mostly learned from my dad, who grew up in the Minnesota farmland that used to be the ‘Big Woods.’ I can tell Mounds View Swede that the yellowing-leaves picture he sent in to Bulletin Board is a ginkgo. That’s a very ancient species that originated in China.
“The first time I saw a ginkgo was in Washington state when the family visited an old friend of my dad’s, Frank C. Hughes, the author and philosopher. He had several mature ginkgos in his yard and was happy to explain them to an 8-year-old Raindancer. There are male and female ginkgos. Wind carries pollen from the male to the female, and that produces seeds, which the Chinese considered a delicacy and roasted.
“Unfortunately, the seeds smell sort of like rancid butter when they’re ripening, so arborists give thought to which sex to plant. Nevertheless, it is a pretty tree. I wonder if the ginkgos that were planted at Como Park some years ago are still there?”
The Permanent Grandfatherly/Grandsonly Record
Writes Cheesehead By Proxy, “back in Northern Minnesota”: “I thought you might enjoy this picture of ‘Grandpa Geoff’ giving our little grandson a shoulder-back ride during our walk through the woods in October.
“When Geoff saw the photo, he commented that with Bodhi getting older and bigger all the time, and his own strength weakening somewhat with age, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to do this much longer!”
BULLETIN BOARD ADVISES: Enjoy it while you can. Tomorrow afternoon, the lad will be heading off to college!
Band Name of the Day: Drop Trou
Website of the Day: