Why has he lived the life he’s led? Chalk it up to Serendipity!

Life as we know it

Waldo Windmill writes: “The word ‘serendipity’ was coined by Horace Walpole in 1754 to describe the good fortunes of the ‘Three Princes of Serendip,’ characters in the English version of an old Persian fairy tale. The 11th edition of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, published in 2014, defines ‘serendipity’ as the ‘phenomenon or instance of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.’

“In retrospect, I think it’s fair to say that I have led a serendipitous life. I was born in a farmhouse in central Wisconsin, the sixth of 10 children, the first seven of whom were boys. Each of my older brothers attended one-room schools through grade eight, then hired out as farm hands, as was the custom in the community. When I was 11 years of age, however, our family moved to Sheboygan County, where the norm ‘dictated’ that rural young men moved on to high school following completion of elementary schooling. So thanks to Serendipity #1, the family move, I received an unexpected high-school education.

“The next major serendipity in my life involved falling ill at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, in late 1952, while experiencing a week of orientation to Army service prior to being assigned to a basic-training site. My brief but serendipitous upset stomach caused me to miss a half-day of aptitude testing, the result of which was my being held over at Fort Sheridan for a month until the next group of inductees came through. And fortunately, the next month’s recruits included a buck private from Minneapolis who was to have a major influence on my life.

“I didn’t meet him until we arrived at Fort Riley, Kansas, for basic training. It was there that, after being assigned to the Special Services unit, he organized a barbershop quartet with me as the lead singer. We quickly gained status as an Army recruiting tool, which resulted in our remaining at Fort Riley for the remainder of our military commitment. (A common alternative assignment in 1952-53, of course, was Korea.)

“Following our discharge from service, the quartet decided to reunite in the Twin Cities area to continue our musical hobby. I decided also to take advantage of the G.I. Bill (which serendipitously was in place at the time) to pursue a college degree. Unfortunately, however, my limited finances were insufficient to cover out-of-state tuition (reciprocity had not yet arrived) at Minnesota public colleges, let alone tuition costs of private schools in the Gopher State.

“Voila! A perusal of a map of my native state revealed that Wisconsin State College at River Falls (now UW/RF) was serendipitously just across the Minnesota/Wisconsin border, thereby resolving financial aspects of my relocation problem. Upon completing my B.S. degree in Elementary Education a few years later, I signed a contract to teach in the Hopkins school district.

“But serendipity had other plans for me. Shortly after signing the contract, I learned that a well-known professor from the University of Minnesota’s College of Education was coming to campus seeking a graduate assistant to replace his current assistant, who had decided to interrupt his studies in order to gain additional teaching experience. I was referred to him, which resulted in a change of plans. In fact, the professor’s current assistant and I traded positions for the following year: He took ‘my’ teaching position in Hopkins, and I began graduate study at the University of Minnesota.

“I never left. I was offered a faculty position when I completed my Ph.D. in Educational Psychology in 1962. Just a year later, the United States Office of Education funded a massive coordinated research program comparing the relative efficacy of various methods of teaching children to read. Interest in this topic had been vigorously re-generated by the publication in 1955 of Rudolf Flesch’s ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read — and What You Can Do About It,’ which remained on the list of best-sellers for 37 weeks. Flesch maintained that the popular ‘Dick and Jane’ and ‘Alice and Jerry’ instructional reading series of the time were failing young readers because of their emphasis on the sight word approach to learning to read, instead of a phonics approach which emphasized sounding out words using sound/symbol correspondences.

“The timing of the governmental funding to test the legitimacy of Flesch’s claims could not have been more serendipitous for me, a ‘still-wet-behind-the-ears’ assistant professor. I joined forces with a well-respected senior departmental colleague to submit a proposal seeking funding for the establishment of a center to coordinate the research project, which included 27 study sites scattered across the United States. Our proposal also included responsibility for analyzing the data and producing a final report.

“Our proposal was approved and funded, and the research aspect of my career in higher education was off to a roaring start. And my friend ‘Serendipity’ played a major role in my decision-making all along the way.”

Our State Fair is the best state fair!

Big Eek of Southeast Minneapolis: “Subject: Statement to accompany my State Fair entry”:

“My passion growing up was my collection of Big Little Books. I kept them in a small child’s suitcase. They cost a dime at Woolworth’s. On my annual visit home, I would check on them in the attic. Then one year they weren’t there! Where could they be?

“I asked my mother and she unfolded the tale of the Big Little Books. She and my dad had friends from Belgium. They had three little girls. Tragically, the youngest one died. Later their family visited our home and my mother sent the eight- and ten-year-old up to the attic to explore while the adults talked.

“The girls discovered the suitcase of BLBs. and brought it down. They couldn’t believe what a treasure they had found. Of course my mother said they could have them and the suitcase too. So much for my collection of BLBs. But wait . . .

“While I was at work my wife used to push The Oldest Daughter, in her baby carriage, to the second-hand store, three miles there and back. Once she brought home three BLBs. Then I started slowly to amass my new collection of BLBs, obtained on our weekly Saturday morning shopping trips.

“The Oldest Daughter was an early reader. She was five and we read BLBs together. She had to wait for me to finish at the bottom of every page. Now it is our collection instead of my collection.

“My fingers no longer work very well. The Middle Daughter helped me with this collection of refrigerator magnets. It’s my design and her execution. The forty-two refrigerator magnets are reproductions of the covers of the BLBs in the family collection. I hope you like it.

“P.S. In ninth grade history we started our chronological four-year high school tour through world history with the study of the caveman. Our teacher, Mr. H, said he would give extra credit if we read a book about ancient civilizations. The class laughed when I asked if ‘Og Son of Fire’ (top row, second from the right) would count. Teachers thought BLBs were trash. Mr. H. said he would count it, and he did.”

Could be verse!

A pair of “timericks” from Tim Torkildson: (1) “New York Times: ‘How Bad Are U.S. Wildfires? Even Hawaii Is Battling a Surge.’

“When the beaches catch on fire / thinking people must inquire / how much further must we go / before the greenhouse gases blow / all of us away at last / and our rule of the Earth has passed.”

(2) “Nothing makes my heart to quicken / faster than some frozen chicken / full of microbes standing by / my poor bowels to liquefy / I’d be better off, I’m sure / as a vegan epicure!”

The Permanent Family Record
Including: The Self-Incriminators

Uncle Al in River Falls: “I have a family anecdote for the B.B. that speaks to the fine art of parenting.

“From an early age, a nephew of mine has considered himself quite the Financial Wizard. In his early teens, the nephew (hereafter referred to as the FW) had saved his money and decided he’d like to buy a compound bow. He saw a used one for $80 in the paper and asked his father to take him to see it. On the drive over, my brother asked the FW if he’d like help in the fine art of negotiating, and the FW assured him he could handle it himself.

“They arrived and examined the bow. The FW then proceeded with the delicate dance of the barter. ‘So . . . how much do you want for the bow?’ The reply was ‘Eighty dollars,’ after which the FW blurted out: ‘Would you take eighty-five dollars?’

“Upon hearing the story, after my gales of laughter subsided, I asked my brother if he had said anything during the negotiations. He said: ‘No, I bit my tongue. I thought it would be a good lesson for him, so I let the him do his thing. But I would have stepped in if the FW had gotten the guy up over a hundred dollars.’

“A postscript: Now in his late 30s, the FW is still ‘wizarding’ to the point that his wife allows him to discuss financial matters only on Tuesdays.”

Our theater of seasons

End-of-June email from Mounds View Swede: “Our latest rain came when the sun was shining to the west and a cloud hovered over us to give us some rain. I could get back-lit raindrops — a rare event. And for a few seconds, Mrs. Swede saw a rainbow in our back yard. It was gone when I arrived with my
camera to capture it. A very, very rare event!

“Flower blossoms had lots of light-catching raindrops on them.

“And some of my hosta-plant leaves had captured a puddle of water.

“At the nearby compost-site garden, some of the milkweed plants were blooming.

“And other blossoms had droplets of water on them.”

And in early July: “On a recent visit to the Arden Hills compost site, some of the hollyhock blossoms really caught my eye.

“A little back lighting always catches my attention. Those fine white lines really showed up well.

“Back home, a couple of Monarch butterflies have found my milkweed plants.

“They didn’t stay long at any one spot, so it was challenging to get a good photo of them.

“I was glad to see they made it to my plants, which are there exclusively for them. I understand there are far fewer this year than before, and I wish them well.”


Kathy S. of St. Paul reports: “Subject: Sound-alike words.

“News flash: Sun Country Airlines had a glitch in its computer this week, which led to delays in flights. But no worries: They are ‘waving change fees’ on flights!”

One for the books
Or: Seeing is believing

The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: ‘I will show you things you have not dreamed of. . .’

“On the first day of class, the professor told his students what to expect during the semester. He had been doing this for more than 30 years and had always been able to fulfill his promises.

“He taught astronomy, introducing students — students who might never take a second class in this field of study — to the universe. But they would likely never forget this semester, either. Some subject areas do not lend themselves to factual obsolescence, but our knowledge of the universe is continuously being updated. That alone makes it exciting, and this term would immerse students in a way that is contagious.

“This was not just a lecture course. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope and all of its marvelous images and the explorations of NASA, so many of the ideas seem to come alive and jump out at students. At the same time, night labs put students at the eyepiece of the campus telescope, where they would behold the solar system, the galaxy and the universe with their own eyes. They could feel the same amazement that Galileo must have experienced some 400 years ago when he first saw the four major moons of Jupiter in his rather low-power telescope. Words can hardly describe what you can behold. They say that seeing is believing. Regardless of any degree of skepticism, it does make it easier to accept scientific ideas when you see for yourself.

“When students actually image a sunspot themselves, or measure the expansion of the universe, they understand more fully. And when they begin to comprehend the universe, what it is like and how it got that way, they will understand themselves and their place in it more fully. And then they will be able to reach out and know their God and their relationship to Him more completely.”

The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

Cherie of Inver Grove Heights: “My cousin Gregory J. of Dayton’s Bluff needed to remove some markings from the side of his garage. He said he was going to get some Goo Gone or Goof Off at Menards. Though Goo Gone is a favorite product of mine, I hadn’t heard of Goof Off before.

“Son of a gun, that evening I saw a commercial on TV for Goof Off.

“Are Baader and Meinhof watching over me?

“P.S. The Goof Off worked, and Gregory J.’s garage is clean once more!”

Toothy Grin #6 of Minneapolis: “Yesterday my husband sent me a link to an audition on YouTube of a 9-year-old girl, Amira Willighagen, on ‘Holland’s Got Talent.’ It was breathtaking, a fully trained adult voice singing the aria ‘O mio babbino caro.’ I’d never heard it before; nor had I heard of her. (Now I want all her CDs — and if she ever comes to perform in the TCs, I’ll be there.)

“Later that day I was working on last Sunday’s (July 4) NYT crossword puzzle and came across a clue I couldn’t have answered without having heard that aria. The clue, 47 across: ‘ “O mio babbino caro,” e.g.’”

The Permanent Maternal Record

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “She could shoot, and she could take a shot, too.

“My mom was a straight shooter and an avid hunter of small game. My dad admired her skill, even though the only creatures he could bear to kill were the blankety-blank mosquitoes. Dad took a photo of her in action. She was 24 and had just returned to Iowa after giving up her homesteading claim in Colorado.

“I took a photo of her when she was 88 as she competed throwing darts with my kids. The kids didn’t stand a chance.

“After Dad went in the nursing home, we invited Mom to go along with us as we made our annual trek up north to Uncle George’s place so all the hunters could sight their guns for deer hunting. She hadn’t shot a gun in decades, but happily joined in at target practice, amazing all of my husband’s relatives by getting a bull’s-eye every time. When someone asked her how she did that, she simply stated: ‘Well, you just decide where you want to aim, and then you shoot there.’

“My mom’s success on the shooting range was no surprise to my kids, but we all held our breath when Great Uncle George handed Grandma Bessie a drink after we retired to the house for dinner. My father was a teetotaler, and aside from a sip of Mogen David Burgundy wine at my house on Thanksgiving, Mother did not imbibe in alcohol — ever. George was known for his heavy hand pouring the booze, and I caught his eye just as he handed Mom one of his lethal drinks. My eyes must have said it all as he shrugged with a ‘How was I supposed to know?’ look as Mom quickly quenched her thirst.

“Just as we were all about to sit down for dinner, George asked if anyone wanted a refill. Mom held her empty glass up high and said: ‘I believe I will have another.’ I glared at George, and he nodded at me not to worry.

“On the ride home, my mother commented: ‘You know, the first drink George made was so tasty, and the second was just blah!’”

Keeping your eyes open

LeoJEOSP writes: “Subject: Costs out of control.

“Prices are too high!”

The sign on the road to the cemetery said “Dead End”
Mixed Messages Division

Jim Fitzsimons of St. Paul reports: “I spotted this sign last October as I was driving south on White Bear Avenue in Maplewood.

“At first, I asked myself: ‘What did that sign say?’

“I pulled into a nearby parking lot and walked on over to it and snapped
this pic. Look closely; you’ll see the mixed message.

“A day or two later, the message was corrected.”

Not exactly what they had in mind

Friendly Bob of Fridley: “Subject: The power of suggestion.

“A couple of weeks back (06/15/2021), I was reading the Bulletin Board while I munched on my lunch of chicken wings. (Apologies to Dr. Seuss here.) The sauce packed a nice punch, and the outside of the wings a tasty crunch, which I enjoyed a bunch. I knew I would . . . had had a hunch. Yes, I was really ‘into’ those wings.

“Oh, where was I now? Oh, yes . . . that power of suggestion. I came to a BB story which I read as ‘Kathy Robertson writes: “Subject: What We Put Our Chicken Through.”‘

“Wait — that cannot be right! Backspace, brain . . . oh, yes, it is ‘Children’ instead of ‘Chicken.’ Dang those wings.

“This reminded me of something that happened more years ago than I care to admit, and that somehow resurfaced over the years at family gatherings. My older sister had just graduated from high school and had no interest at all in college. She managed to land a decent job at . . . a local college. Any bucks coming in to the family effort were greatly appreciated, and she was glad to help out and provide an occasional treat to us young-’uns.

“It was a big step for her to have her own checking account, and she used it often but judiciously. One day she decided she should treat her siblings to a Dairy Queen. She had also discovered that she had an affinity for mocha. I think she first got a mocha malt at DQ before they officially had such a thing; she just asked the DQ-disher to add some coffee to her chocolate malt. Naturally she began to write a check for the goodies. At the same time, a younger sister asked: ‘What is mocha?’ I responded (because I had already asked!): ‘It is chocolate mixed with coffee.’ As older sister was writing the check at the same time, she made it out to ‘Dairy Coffee.’ At least she discovered the error right away, but we had a good laugh about it for many years.

“Miss ya, Sis.”

Everyone’s a critic!
Books Division

Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Subject: A good book by a local author.

“For the readers out there:

“I just read ‘The Finders,’ by St. Paul author Jeffrey B. Burton. It is the first book in a series about a supernaturally gifted golden retriever named Vira/Elvira, her semi-bumbling male partner, and a female cop. I normally avoid books about serial killers, but read this straight through . . . if only because I love the dogs—including a ‘boy’ dog named Sue, who considers himself too old to go on walks. The hero named the dog after the Johnny Cash song ‘A Boy Named Sue,’ but most people he met didn’t get the joke.”

Our plants, ourselves

Lady Di of Roseville writes: “Unbelievable. I’ve had this cactus for over five years. Brought it back from Montana, and it basically just survived until this year. It obviously loved our heat wave. Thirty-five buds are waiting to bloom.”

See world
Or: Our birds, ourselves (cont.)

Wayne Nelson of Forest Lake writes: “Subject: UPDATED PICTURES OF BABY TURKEYS.

“Last week I sent in some pictures to the BB of a family of 11 young turkeys that have been coming to feed in my back yard. They have since been coming just about every day, escorted by their mother. It’s been about one week now, and I thought that I would show how much they have grown since and are getting more colors in their feathers.

“I will try to get some more pictures of them in another week or so, showing their progress.”

There’s nothin’ like a simile!

Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul, reports: “This is the beginning of Jim Souhan’s column in Tuesday’s STrib:

“‘Thanks to Josh Donaldson for giving me an excuse to exhume the greatest quote in the history of Twins rivalries.

“‘Former White Sox manager and current broadcaster Ozzie Guillen said of then-White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski: “If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less.”

“‘Pierzynski became the central figure in the Twins-Sox rivalry in the 2000s. The Twins wouldn’t have turned the corner in the early 2000s without him. The White Sox wouldn’t have won the World Series in 2005 without him. The rivalry would have been bland as concession-stand ketchup without him.’”

BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: Good one.! BUT (always a BUT with us, even on those rare occasions when we like a sportswriter’s labored simile): Had we been Souhan’s editor, we’d have suggested that he put “without him” at the beginning of those three sentences, so that his simile would have been the banger at the end, without that last “without him” limping along behind.

CAUTION! Words at Play!

Semi-Legend: “Subject: Advice.

“The Universal Crossword in the July 2 Star Tribune had as its theme ‘It’s All in the Timing.’ David Alfred Bywaters provided thematic clues and answers that were, as one critic put it, ‘kinda cute.’

“For example:

“17a. [When to wish a tennis player luck?] PRESERVE.

“64a. [When to read Luke and John?] POSTMARK.

“And smack dab in the center of the grid: 39a. [When not to interrupt a jazz soloist?] MIDRIFF.

‘Good answer.”

The Permanent Sisterly Record
Leading to: CAUTION! Words at Play!

Sisterly Love in Shoreview: “Subject: It’s always time for a beer.

“My sister is a retired nun. She is 89 years young and has been in the convent most of her life. She has been living in a retirement community for her religious order. Due to the outbreak of COVID 19, and because her residence was deemed a nursing facility, since March 2020 she was permitted access only to the chapel, dining room and her private room. Once the COVID restrictions were lifted, in June, my husband and I decided to pick her up so she could ‘get out’ and stay with us for a few days. Before she got in the car, she broke down in tears but said: ‘These are only tears of joy.’

“After so many months of restricted movement, she enjoyed sitting on our deck for much of the time, to enjoy the fresh air and listen to the birds. It so happens my sister enjoys a cold glass of beer once in a while. So on one hot day while she was sitting on the deck, I asked her if she’d like to split a beer with me, and she replied: ‘Sure.’

“As I brought out the glass of beer, I noticed Sister was praying the rosary. I said: ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were praying!’ I asked: ‘Are you OK drinking the beer while praying the rosary?’

“Sister replied: ‘Sure. God understands.’

“As time went by, I took a peek to see how she was doing. Sure enough, she was drinking the beer and praying the rosary.

“Shortly after that, my husband came in the room and asked: ‘Where’s Sister?’

“I replied: ‘She’s on the deck, having an Ale Mary.'”

Band Name of the Day: God Understands

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