Life (and near death) as we know it
Grandma Pat, “formerly of rural Roberts, Wisconsin”: “Subject: St. Patrick’s Day.
“The month of March brings to mind memories of many fine St. Patrick’s Day celebrations: parades, Irish songs sung around fireplaces, traditional Irish dinners, and Masses attended by faithful descendants of immigrants.
“There was one St. Patrick’s Day, however, that brings back very different memories. That was the St. Patrick’s Day of 2001. Six-year-old granddaughter Clare and I got on an ill-fated Amtrak train in Iowa. We were going to visit Clare’s Grandma Mary in Colorado, and her Aunt Nancy and Uncle Robert. Fate had other plans, though, and we derailed at midnight. The lights went out, metal screeched, and we rolled one-and-one-half times down a steep embankment. I remember floating in midair for a while before I landed, then being pinned between seats with a broken-up shoulder and no little Clare. I called and called into the darkness, calling Clare’s name, trying to keep my voice calm and reassuring; then I asked the unseen near me to please feel around them for a small child. I bargained with God and called on my ancestors. After what seemed like an eternity, I felt a little head lean on me, and a small voice spoke the most beautiful words I have ever heard: ‘I’m here, Grandma.’
“Well, the good rescuers of Corning, Iowa, came walking through the snowy night and helped us get out of the upside-down train. As we walked up the embankment and quite a ways along the train tracks, helping hands carried Clare and guided us to waiting vehicles.
“As for me, I look forward this year to a quiet, uneventful St. Pat’s Day, and I’ll be wearing my green with gratitude.”
Auction Girl: “Subject: Small miracles.
“Yesterday Dad got his vaccine. People his age have lived through so much, surviving all the way.
“A telegram and a transatlantic ship got him and his mom back to the U.S. before hostilities in Europe.
“He made it past the pre-vaccine school years, to stand on lines for polio as a teen.
“He was done with the military between Korea and Vietnam, so no deployment.
“He had over 50 years with Mom.
“So much good.”
Now & Then (Pandemics Division)
Including: The Verbing of America (Historical Division)
Cheesehead By Proxy, “back in Northern Minnesota”: “Subject: Fresh air.
“I’m not sure which of these photos I have shared before: I’m Older Than Dirt! [Bulletin Board says: Neither are we! So are we!]
“I recently read an article from The Atlantic about how fresh air was valued in battling illness back in the old days.
“The outdoor riverside beds reminded me of a photo in the back of my grandmother’s senior yearbook, touting the wonderful corner patient ‘porch room’ at the local hospital in Canon City, Colorado.
“My grandmother’s senior year ran from 1918 to 1919. I ended up with her albums and photos, but only recently looked through the yearbook again.
I have shared one of her pictures with Bulletin Board Readers before, a photo in her album of the class wearing masks. But now to find that photo in the yearbook was rather a treat. And it turns out she was the assistant editor of the annual.
“The whole yearbook is fun to see. It mentions how most of the boys in the class were off to fight in World War I [Bulletin Board notes: Not known then as World War I. They were optimistic about the outcome.] The male underclassmen in the typing-class photo are mostly in military uniform.
“I hope you enjoy the photos!
“P.S. Is ‘Kodak’ used as a verb in the advertisement for aspiring photographers?! [Bulletin Board says: No doubt about it.] Kodak this!”
The Permanent Maternal Record
Robin from Minneapolis: “In Sunday’s (2/28/21) Pioneer Press, Bill Amend’s ‘Foxtrot’ character Peter needs a science project and is brainstorming bizarrely. (I don’t know how Mr. Amend and other ‘strippers’ come up with such humorous, entertaining and relevant subjects each week/day, but I’m sure grateful for their talent.) The strip reminded me of my sister’s dilemma
“I am 16 and a half years older than my sister, so when she had to come up with a science project (and hated the thought), I thought it would be a nice, big-sisterly gesture to try to help her. She was entirely negative and pooh-poohed and shot down every suggestion I had until I walked away disgusted and told her to find her own solution. That solution turned out to be Mother.
“Mother was an erudite high-school graduate who read and studied extensively. Our house was crammed with books. As children, we quickly became uninvited to neighborhood birthday parties because our gift was always a very unappreciated book. (Very clever on Mother’s part, because she no longer had to fork out for presents for various and sundry kids.) Mother was also very into being a shock jock: like the time when the trim on every house in the neighborhood was painted a very conservative white and she had ours painted in distinctive, bright pink coral. The neighbors were horrified. Mom was smug.
“You’ll never guess what topic my mother came up with for my sister’s fifth-grade science project. It was right up my sister’s alley, since she was all about getting her revenge for having to do the project at all. My sister diagrammed the mammary gland! Can you imagine!? There weren’t any visual aids (thank God!), just the poster board showing all the ducts and glands leading to the nipple, and the narrative. Can you imagine the reaction of the parents who were invited to the Science Fair (not to mention the other students)? What were the teachers and administrators to do? They couldn’t tell her that her project wasn’t allowed. If they tried, they probably knew my formidable mother would have taken the issue of free speech to the Supreme Court. My sister and my mother were very pleased with the coup they had pulled off.
“Years later, my sister could have used the clear, silicon breast that my partner, Gary, used to ‘detail’ nurses and P.A.’s who performed breast examinations. It had a small lump inside, depicting a tumor. It was provided by Gary’s pharmaceutical company. Perfect. The only problem was that Gary displayed the breast, nipple up, on top of boxes of sales material in the back seat of his car. It was very prominent at eye level through the window. After cringing many times at this sight, I implored Gary to please find another, less obvious location for his sales ‘show and tell’ breast. Thankfully, he accommodated. I think my sister, however, at age 13 knew more about the inner workings of the mammary gland than even some professionals.”
The Permanent Family Record
Including: The great comebacks
The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Admittedly, for a skinny girl, I had a huge appetite. My husband loved to tell people that I was the only girl he had ever dated who would clean my plate . . . and his, too, if he didn’t eat fast enough.
“He really wasn’t one to talk. One day, my dad dropped in on me early one morning as I was packing my husband’s lunch. Dad saw the 10 slices of bread all buttered, and watched as I assembled five hearty sandwiches. Dad asked me why I was making so many. Was he going out of town, or what? I explained that besides his eight-hour shift at the broadcast studio, he worked an additional four-hour shift at a recording studio, and he needed some sandwiches to supplement his hot dinner.
“Dad was snickering as he walked out the door, and I could almost see, over his head, a light bulb — in one of those thought balloons cartoonists draw.
“The following Christmas, my husband was the recipient of a humongous package of sturdy large construction bags from Dad and my brother — each one carefully hand-labeled in large block letters ‘LUNCH BAG,’ preceded by my husband’s name.”
Our theater of seasons
Our Birds, Ourselves Division
Doris. G. of Randolph, Minnesota: “Last summer I took this pic of two yellow finches posing for the camera.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: We would say they’re goldfinches — but you’re right: They sure do look yellow to us!
Spring is coming . . .
Our birds, ourselves
Dragonslayer of Oakdale writes: “Subject: Nature on display.
“it’s been awhile since I’ve contributed to Bulletin Board. As primary caregiver for my wife for nearly seven years, my attention has been otherwise focused.
“This picture of the owl was taken by my daughter, in pursuit of her employment, on Friday, February 26th, in the fair city of Stillwater. Not being an ornithologist, identification of this Owl species is beyond me. I thought the experts on Bulletin Board surely will have a answer. He blends in fairly well, doesn’t he.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Indeed, he (or, of course, she) does.
We sent a very similar picture, of our own, earlier this winter, to our Official Ornithologist, Al B of Hartland, who confirmed our suspicion that we had seen a barred owl. His reply: “Dark eyes on an owl in Minnesota means a barred owl.”
We didn’t ask how one can tell the difference between male and female barred owls. Al B?
This ’n’ that
Al B of Hartland: (1) “I was up early chirping with the birds. It was -23°. ‘Good -23° morning,’ I greeted the first caller of the day.
“I’m happy the National Weather Service came up with a new Wind Chill Temperature index in 2001. Before that, they calculated a 25° temperature with 25 mph winds at -7°. The new wind chill index calculates it at +9°. That helps.”
(2) “Another day of snow and tell.
“When it’s frigid, birds become puffier. It helps to be fluffy.
“A hairy woodpecker put sunflower seeds into the bark of a tree and hammered them open. This activity attracted the interest of a blue jay curious to see what the woodpecker was up to. It’s like one of our species back when we filled restaurants. We looked around to see what looked good going into other people’s mouths.”
Life as we know it
Where Were You Then? Division
The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: Life-changing events.
“There are a handful of events that take place during your life that you will never forget: You remember where you were when the news of the happening reached your ears, and you never forget what you were doing. Of course I do not mean personal events like your wedding or the birth of your children. I refer to Earth-shaking events that ring throughout history and everyone you know speaks of to this day. You can count them on one hand. Unique, unforgettable
events that stopped me from whatever I was doing, riveted me to the ground and held me fast include the launch of Sputnik, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the sudden explosion of the Challenger space shuttle.
“I was a junior in high school back on October 4, 1957. There was no NASA. We thought there were nine planets. Get over it; Pluto never was a real planet. There was Flash Gordon in the movies, but that was a fantasy world. Still, it was pretty neat.
“There I was, sitting at my school desk, about 2:00 in the afternoon, working out some math problems, when the loudspeaker came on and made an unexpected announcement: The Soviets had placed Sputnik into orbit around the Earth. I don’t remember any other statement with it. Nothing else mattered anyway. The United States had had a number of failures trying to accomplish this feat, and now our Cold War opponents [Bulletin Board interjects: “enemies” is more like it!] had beat us to it. Everything changed.
“It is important to understand that things change the world around us, but these very changes help forge the very beings that we become. In other words, who I am today is, in part, due to events I have experienced. They can have no effect, or have a dramatic impact. In my case, I made a crystal radio to listen to the beep, beep, beep from the satellite. I recall winding wire around an oatmeal box and having to move what we called a ‘cat whisker’ detector around on
a crystal until one could hear the sound in the earphones. Yes, TV and better radios were available, but this was a challenge. And challenges have to be met. I didn’t understand everything about the functioning of that radio receiver, but eventually I did become a professor of physics and astronomy.
“I organized a student group interested in rocketry. This was before Estes Industries offered simple but efficient kits to build flyable rockets. Years later I became a consultant for Estes, helping out with computer programming and rocketry projects. In our high school, I became president of the rocket club. I don’t recall that we had a special name. We made several rockets in the year and a half before I graduated, but none of them actually flew. If I recall correctly, they barely got off of their initial guidance rods and then fizzled and snaked around in the grass of our football field. It must have been amusing to watch us fail, again and again.
“I graduated and went on to do a lot of things, some actually related to the space program. I still do volunteer work for JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) as a Solar System Ambassador, and I still judge Aerospace, especially rocketry, for 4-H at the Minnesota State Fair. In any case, I surely will never forget October 4th, 1957, because it is an integral part of who I am.”
Ask Bulletin Boarders Division
Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Subject: A question BBers might want to answer.
“A segment on C-SPAN2 recently was ‘This Is Not My Memoir,’ named after Andre Gregory’s latest book. He is a playwright and activist, interviewed by Wallace Shawn — who played Vizzini in the movie ‘The Princess Bride.’ [Bulletin Board notes: Perhaps more to the point, Mr. Shawn co-wrote and co-starred with Mr. Gregory in “My Dinner With Andre.”]
“One man asked the other something like ‘How did you get through the years when no one believed in you?’ Which struck me as a question so many people would like to answer.
“My answer to this question is that my grandmother just plain believed in me, without worrying about details. I miss her forever, but her encouragement still helps me.
“So, BBers: What motivates you to hang in there when times are tough?”
Your Late Night Lady: “Subject: You never know.
“Several years ago, I submitted my DNA to Ancestry. The report came back saying I am 18 percent Scandinavian. No way. I have great proof that my ancestors immigrated from Germany and England.
“Then recently I Googled the village in Lincolnshire, U.K., where my maternal great-grandparents came from. A history of the area popped up which said that area in England was invaded in around 700 by Danish Vikings. They then settled there and intermarried with the locals.
“So I am Scandinavian! My granddaughter’s husband’s comment: ‘That explains a lot.’”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Funny boy!
Know thy husband!
Leading to: The Simple Pleaasures (Pandemic Division)
Ramblin’ Rose: “Subject: The Math Nut Unleashed, or Cookies, Cookies Everywhere.
“This pandemic has kept us more homebound than normal. Schedules are thrown off, friends and family link through email and texts, and we are suffering cabin fever as we await our turn at the vaccine. My hubby, The Math Nut (TMN), though, has used this situation to expand his skills.
“Now, I love cookies. They are my favorite small snack. A bit of sweetness without too many calories. Homemade, of course.
“I recently lamented that we were cookie-less, having eaten our way through the limited number of Christmas treats I had produced. TMN, himself a cookie fiend, slyly noted that I could always make a batch of chocolate chip, which, not coincidentally, are his favorite. I looked him in the eye and replied: ‘Feel free.’ He chuckled, but said no more.
“I wasn’t surprised to see sticks of butter defrosting on the kitchen counter the next morning; I knew that he would accept the challenge. TMN is a good cook, but his baking is limited to making an angel food cake each year for my birthday. Still, we both had faith in his skill, and with only minor coaching, he produced a beautiful batch of five dozen cookies. They were delicious. (Note the past tense.) Somehow, things always taste better when someone else makes them.
“TMN was now on a roll. When I made a large pot of chili during the recent Polar Plunge, he noted that biscuits might be better than crackers on the side, and inquired if they were difficult to make. I assured him that I had an easy recipe for drop biscuits, no rolling and cutting required. He took up the gauntlet, and we had biscuits for a couple of nights with the chili. Lovely. I was beginning to see why men are such fans of baked goods, as they are most often made by someone else.
“As is his style, TMN is taking this new hobby seriously. Walking through the bakery section of Costco last week, I saw him eyeing a container of chocolate-chip cookies. He stopped, looked, put them in the cart, paused, then returned them to the table. He told me he’d decided that if he wanted more chocolate-chip cookies, he could make them himself. Well, I like that! He’s yet to make that second batch, though, and we’ve just purchased a half-dozen boxes of cookies from our neighborhood Girl Scouts. Perhaps after we’ve munched our way through all of the Thin Mints and Caramel DeLites, and are again suffering cookie withdrawal, he will again gift us with a batch of his homemade treats. My fingers are crossed.”
The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon
luv.mom: “Some days ago I glanced at the crossword puzzle my husband was working and noticed a strange-looking word: popinjay. Never heard of it before — but I wasn’t interested, so didn’t look at the clue.
“That evening I was reading a novel about the Civil War, and there was that same word. It was used to describe a soldier. Now I had to find out what it meant. From the context I could tell it was not complimentary and was a warning to a sweet young lady: ‘Watch out for him. He’s just a popinjay.’ So here’s what I learned: A popinjay is a conceited silly man, talkative, a fop, vain, pretender, dandy.
“Seems to me this would be quite a handy word to have on hand. I have 11 granddaughters, and when they become romantically interested in the wrong guy, it would sound nicer for Grandma to say ‘He’s just a popinjay’ rather than ‘He’s a real jerk!'”
“So I suppose this is a BB B-M, then.”
What’s in a name?
Donald: “‘Henry scores 27 in Spartans’ win’ was the headline for an article on Page C9 of the Sports section in the February 21 edition of the paper west of St. PauL.
“That didn’t mean much to me, but the opening paragraph caught my eye: ‘Aaron Henry scored 16 of his career high-tying 27 points in the second half and Michigan State rallied to beat Indiana 78-71 on Saturday in Bloomington.’
“There was something about Henry’s name that caught my attention, but I couldn’t pin it down.”
Dept. of Neat Stuff
Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff: “Subject: A tree glows in St. Paul.
“Among the random neat stuff I’ve collected over the years are a number of items, including Christmas ornaments, that glow in the dark. I’ve never been sure what to do with them, but figured someday I would find the time to play with them. I assumed that would be when I got old(er). I never expected that a worldwide pandemic might provide such an opportunity.
“Glow-in-the-dark ornaments don’t look like much in ordinary light. They are a translucent white but glow a bit in ultraviolet light. They really shine, literally, when they are ‘charged’ with light for a time and then placed in a dark room. Then they glow with a greenish light, slowly dimming over time. This is a process known as phosphorescence.
“Side note: Up until the mid-20th century, there existed things that permanently glowed in the dark because they contained trace amounts of radioactive materials such as radium. Despite the death of Madame Curie in 1934, who discovered, named, studied and was killed by radium, it took until the 1960s before it became apparent that putting radioactive materials in household items was a bad idea.
“Anyway, as an experiment I decorated my metal tree with a variety of glow-in-the-dark ornaments that included snowflakes, icicles, snowmen, Santas, reindeers, etc. In the daytime, it didn’t look like much, but was fairly impressive when viewed at night in a nearly pitch-black room or photographed with a long enough time exposure.
“I doubt if I’ll ever decorate another Christmas tree like this, but it was an interesting activity to briefly keep me occupied in these weird times.”
Our theater of seasons
A series of reports from Mounds View Swede: (1) “I noticed this morning how the sunlight made even these old leaves a point of attention and attraction. There aren’t many left to catch the sun.
“And the night frost left some railing supports with points of light.
“The snow on the deck has been retreating in a scalloped fashion as the supports block the afternoon sun and slow the melt in the sun’s shadow.
“Last night was a clear, full-moon sky and made for moon shadows on the snow.
“And this morning’s bright sun made for a myriad of sparkles again — made more distinct when I darkened the photo.”
(2) “The once very smooth, footprint-free snow in our back yard has changed quite a bit with the warming weather. It’s now a mass of bumps.
“We’ll see what happens with the next round of snow. Will everything be evened out again? Or will the bumps prevail?”
(3) “I enjoyed seeing how this last snow in February changed the look of so many things. It was a wet snow with a northwesterly wind, so it stuck on the north or west sides of things.
“It was doing a good job of decorating the west side of trees, too.
“In sheltered areas, it was more evenly distributed.
“The oak trees with their wide-spread branches look so much better with the white top sides.”
(4) “I brought my camera along when I went to put my food scraps in the county recycling container and then took a look at some of the plants near the holding ponds in Ardan Park.
“I liked how the wet snow stuck together and clumped up on some of the branches.
“The uncluttered, clear blue sky made a nice background for a few branches.
“The lower oak leaves held a lot of snow, too — arranged just so.”
Not exactly what they had in mind
Rusty of St. Paul: “A long time ago, I took a wooden-boat trip down the St. Croix, then down the Mississippi to Lake Pepin. It was a windy day, out of the south, better for sailboats than vintage lapstrake boats. The guys were in a 16-foot Cruisers, Inc. and the gals in a 26-foot Skiff Craft.
“Halsey Hall once described a wavy Lake Michigan as having a ‘cranky day.’ Lake Pepin was absolutely furious. The Skiff Craft, being larger, handled the surf better than the guys’ boat. I want to say that we crashed the waves, but the waves crashed us.
“We have read that most male drowning victims are recovered with their pants flies open. Intoxicated, relieving themselves off the side of the boat, they get tossed into and swallowed by the drink.
“My friend Karl said this trip was so rough that we boys ‘couldn’t even pee IN our pants!'”
Band Name of the Day: Cookie Withdrawal — or: The Thought Balloons