Cleaning the farmhouse for company (spiders!) takes her back four decades, to a reading of “Charlotte’s Web.”

The Permanent Motherly/Sonly Record

DebK of Rosemount: “A crew installing some kind of infrastructure ‘upgrade’ has managed to sever our ‘fiber-optics,’ leaving us without Internet connection, a situation that has freed up quite a lot of time I’d otherwise have wasted on email and blogs and the like. I’ve dedicated many of these liberated hours to preparing for the arrival of Texas Sis, whose stay will overlap the visit of Favorite Son and his family.

“This afternoon, I tackled the cleaning of the walkout level of the farmhouse, a task that involved the relocation — and demise, I’m afraid — of a large number of daddy longlegs spiders, who typically set up housekeeping around Rice County Fair week, which this is.

“Perhaps that explains why, as I was putting a substantial dent in the spider population, I got to thinking about ‘Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship,’ the collection of letters exchanged by E.B. White and (possibly our cousin) Edmund Ware Smith. In one letter, Cousin Edmund writes that his wife, Mary, ‘read Charlotte’s Web this summer in between short-order cooking [for visiting relatives] and gardening, and she loved it.’ (On a loosely related note, Mary Smith grew ‘fancy lettuces’ for restaurants in the vicinity of Damariscotta, Maine, when she should’ve been nagging Cousin Edmund to lay off the cigarettes, which likely precipitated his untimely death.)

“I further interrupt my tale to make two points: First, Cousin Edmund conspicuously fails to offer his own review of ‘Charlotte’s Web.’ Second, I empathize with Mrs. Smith re: that ‘short-order cooking’ business. It’s been that kind of summer here, too.

“Anyway, as sometimes happens, thinking of ‘Charlotte’s Web’ took me back more than four decades, to one of the winters after Taxman launched his own business. In those, our ‘beans and weenies years,’ he worked a full day for his employer, raced home to a hurried family dinner, and then descended to the basement, where he saw his own clients until 10 o’clock or so. That left me to manage the children, preschoolers, still too young to be apprenticed to their dad, though all would eventually work as his ‘data entry clerks’ for a penny an entry (with ‘back-charges’ for any errors).

“The night in question found me on the living-room sofa, reading ‘Charlotte’s Web’ to the kids. We’d arrived at that difficult section [Bulletin Board interjects: SPOILER ALERT! If you have not yet read “Charlotte’s Web,” we advise you to skip to the next item, finish today’s Bulletin Board, and then go read “Charlotte’s Web”; you can save DebK‘s story for later!] — the closing day of the county fair, when Charlotte explains to Wilbur that she will not be accompanying him back to the Zuckerman farm, that she will die.

“Favorite Son, clad in yellow flannel, zip-front footie-pajamas, was uncharacteristically inattentive, provoking the ire of his sisters and deep disappointment in me. Attributing his behavior to the callousness of his sex, I forged ahead, choking only a little as I read the saddest line in all literature: ‘No one was with her when she died.’

“At that very moment, the doorbell sounded. Ever eager to admit arriving clients, Favorite Son bounced off the couch and skidded over to open the door. But instead of delivering his well-practiced, entirely conventional greeting, he sobbed: ‘Charlotte died!’”

BULLETIN BOARD MUSES: So much for the supposed “callousness of his sex” — eh?

The Permanent Brotherly/Sisterly Record

The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “My middle daughter was just 14 months old when our middle son was born, and in her mind, he was her favorite possession. Oh, I am not so sappy as to pretend it was all sweetness and light; there was as much pummeling as there was hugging in their relationship, but they were close playmates throughout their childhood and congenial friends as adults. He was the first person she called in the middle of the night when her husband had his fatal heart attack, and a couple of years ago, he took a week off from work to fly out east to attend ‘Parents Day’ with her when her young daughter graduated from basic training in the National Guard.

“Distance and COVID have kept them apart the past couple of years — until last weekend, when they were in the same state at the same time to attend a favorite uncle’s 90th birthday party. As I watched them spot each other amid the mass of relatives and take off in a dramatic run towards each other, arms outstretched, rivaling one of those old-time Hollywood epics, it brought back a memory of a day they ran to me. Sixty years ago, when they were preschoolers and still the youngest in our family, they were playing happily together when I heard that telltale SMACK! followed by ‘I’m telling!’ as my little boy came running to tattle. She was running right on his heels, and just as he said ‘SHE hit me!’ she shoved him out of the way and said in her defense: ‘HE hit me second!’”


Kathy S. of St. Paul: “Subject: Spelilng matters.

“It took forever to drive down Snelling Avenue in St. Paul tonight. Which gave me time to see at least three signs saying we were on a detour from ‘Hamilne’ Avenue (a.k.a. Hamline Avenue).

“Maybe the sign maker is a fan of ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ written by A. A. Milne.”


Mrs. Bubba of Clifton reports: There are apostrophes available in Gordon, Wisconsin, if you need any.”

Now & Then

Mom in Boyland: “The other day I deleted hundreds of photos from my phone. They recorded simple general living, my kids and even my dog. Of course I backed them up on a photo website and the cloud.

“I realized how excessive this would seem to my mom, who passed away years ago. I’ve seen only two photos of her as a child. One was as a baby, and one was at about 10 years old in front of a fountain. On the the back of the photo was written: ‘the fountain.'”

Just a coincidence?
Coiffure Division

LeoJEOSP writes: “My dear maternal grandmother and her husband, Oscar.

“I saw this photo, and the first thing I thought of was Princess Leia!”

Muse, amuse (responsorial)

Elvis: The post last week about Tupperware reminded Elvis of this story.

Elvis grew up close to Niagara Falls. Some of the smart, scientifically minded BB readers probably know the Falls have slowly moved upstream in the Niagara River over time. The precipice of the Falls flows over the hard limestone top layer of what’s called the Niagara escarpment. and eventually these rocks break off as the softer layers under it erode, slowly moving the Falls backwards.”

“(Some BB readers could score extra points if they know that the Niagara escarpment is about 1,000 miles long, starting near Watertown, N.Y., and winding its way west through Wisconsin and ending in Illinois. The Falls just happens to be a low place and where Lake Erie chose to empty out, so all the water in the Great Lakes can continue to flow down to the Atlantic.)

“(And more extra points if you knew the escarpment rocks were from the Silurian period, about 430 to 390 million years ago.)

“This action carved out over those eons the impressive Niagara gorge, with a whirlpool and very large rapids after the falls, and as the water heads to Lake Ontario and is squeezed down into a narrow channel. At one time there were attempts to build tourist activities including a railroad down inside the gorge, but even today it is too rugged and the water too deep and rough for anything other than a jet-boat excursion or the cable car that crosses the whirlpool.

“However, there were places that locals knew on both the American and Canadian sides of the gorge where you could get down to the bottom and right up close to the rapids. One day, Elvis and a good friend decided to hike down to the area around the whirlpool. It was kind of a rough hike. Elvis bumped his shin and cut it open on a rock; nothing serious, but there was a good bit of blood. We still made it to the flat rocks at the bottom of the gorge and enjoyed our packed lunch a few feet away from the swirling whirlpool, waving at the tourists crossing via the cable car high above us.

“This trip was back in the ‘good old days’ when Americans and Canadians crossed the bridges back and forth easily and routinely. A couple of questions, and you could go to Canada for a meal, golf, fireworks, or to buy cheaper gas. No ID, no passports, and usually no hassles. One was not treated at all times as a potential terrorist.

“However, the Whirlpool bridge we took is the least used of the crossings, and we were a couple of scruffy-looking, long-haired kids, dirty from the hike — and Elvis, you remember, was kind of bloodied up. We got pulled over into the secondary inspection, were instructed to park the car and asked to come inside for some questions and the rare event of showing an ID to the Customs folks as we re-entered the US.

“The car belonged to Elvis‘s friend’s mom. A big old early ’70s Cadillac sedan. And his mom sold Tupperware. The trunk was full of dozens of her Tupperware samples of all shapes, sizes and kinds. As the agents looked at our ID’s, they wanted to know what we had been up to. It was obvious they were skeptical about our story; no one went ‘hiking,’ they said. They had a ‘hunch’ we were bringing in something illegal. They told us to sit and wait, and several went out to the car.

“They looked in the front seats, looked in the back seats, looked through our backpacks and lunch kit. Then they popped the trunk. They came back in and asked what we were doing with so much Tupperware? Again, they didn’t believe us.

Elvis and his friend calmly waited about 30 minutes for the officers to pull out all the Tupperware and open and reseal every single container, looking for drugs. Several were nesting bowls of diminishing sizes, so they would open one, then the next, then the next, then the next and so on. They put them all back and sent us on our way.”

Life (and death) as we know it
Or: Fifteen Nanoseconds of Infamy

The Astronomer of Nininger: “Some things seem to pervade society and how its members live. I grew up on Chicago’s South Side, and the Good Wife was born and raised in Oak Park, a moderate-to-upscale suburb of Chicago. How we met and ultimately got married is another story, worthy of merit in itself.

“Chicago earned its reputation for mobsters, the Mafia and gangland slayings during Prohibition, and it seems to have stuck.

“But how did ‘ordinary’ people live with what was all around us? There had to be some Whole-Part-Whole relationship. Some things we simply did not know about, or maybe it was just accepted as a way of life. But still, it didn’t seem to affect our morals or the steadfast, Christian upbringing of the children. The Good Wife explained that her father was a carpenter, and her neighborhood friend Francine’s father was a mobster. Her dad was Samuel (Sam) Giancana, crime boss of the Chicago Outfit — the genuine Mafia that ruled the entire Chicagoland area. A young first-grader didn’t know there was a difference or what it was.

“In that neighborhood, Sam, also nicknamed ‘MoMo,’ contributed a considerable fortune to St. Bernardine Catholic Church. The Good Wife tells stories about playing in Giancana’s family home. Their residence was not uncommonly lavish. It was a house that fit into the working-class neighborhood of the south side of Oak Park. Still, it was distinguished because it was brick and had stained-glass windows. Most homes there were stucco and frame with lap siding. There, on the corner of Wenonah and Fillmore Avenues, you could look up and down the crossing streets, making sure it was safe for his departure. Grace, a neighborhood friend of the Good Wife’s parents, often served as a lookout for him, watching for strange cars or anything else that was unusual. She lived across the alley and had a view that was not accessible to Giancana’s house.

“The Good Wife described a desk in the basement where they played. The book ‘Mafia Princess’ also presented that desk in meticulous detail. The book was primarily about Antoinette, who was 10 years older than the Good Wife, so they did not have much to do with each other. The desk itself typically contained upwards of a million dollars cash at any time. This was back in the ’50s. On Halloween, neighborhood kids liked to go there first because they would likely get a whole box of Cracker Jack when Trick-or-Treating. The Good Wife’s sister was seven years older and rode with Bonnie, accompanied by her bodyguard, to Oak Park — River Forest High School daily. Surely there must have been a code of ethics within the Mob that kept the families ‘off limits.’ Their kids went to the public schools with all of the others. I’m not sure at what point in life that changed forever.

“Sam Giancana, according to Bill O’Reilly’s latest book on ‘Killing the Mob,’ personally ordered the killing of more than 200 people. In 1975 he was frying sausages (most assuredly Italian sausages) when he heard a knock on the door. He momentarily left the pan to answer that knock and was shot to death. The Good Wife and I were living in Wyoming at the time and had gone to Yellowstone Park, fishing. We’ll never forget that day when we read one of those single-page news summaries that listed an Oak Park dateline and described the assassination.

“But it wasn’t just one neighborhood. Mob influence was far more reaching than merely Oak Park. The Good Wife’s father was a carpenter, owning a small kitchen- and bath-remodeling business. He did remodeling work in the River Forest home of Tony Accardo, another well-known gangster. I lived on Chicago’s South Side and was appointed to the Air Force Academy by Roland V. Libonati, a lawyer for Al Capone. I did not know that until years later.

“While it was certainly clear that Mob actions were wrong, immoral and unwelcome, did the ‘normal’ aspects of life also become tainted?

“I don’t think so. People are people, and they try to live their own lives. In a country like ours, with the freedoms that we have, members of society like The Godfather are allowed to exist. Thank God for our liberty and the right to determine our own destiny.”

BULLETIN BOARD MUSES: We fully endorse your final sentence — but have our doubts that God would endorse the liberty to order 200 killings.

Everyone’s a critic!
Books Division (responsorial)

In a recent Bulletin Board online, Kathy S. of St. Paul wrote: “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.”

We presently heard from OTD from NSP: “Second book (released 6/29/21), ‘The Keepers,’ is also excellent.”

What is right with people?
Pandemic Division (responsorial)

OTD from NSP: I agree with Anonymous Woman of St. Paul. During ‘lockdown,’ I tried to order at a different local restaurant about once a week — even if it was just a sandwich or a breakfast roll. I always gave the person bringing out the order a $5 tip (or 20 percent, if it was a larger, ‘family-size’ order). I have continued this tipping practice with things being open (a cup of coffee and $5 tip is fine with me). I also try for local/small regional businesses. It has been a tough year, and I want something besides large chains available. The local hardware store gives personal service and will carry out to my car.

“Hope others are doing the same.”

See world

OG Fox: “We have a patch of woods around our house that has been used as a maternity ward/day-care center for many years. Does have been coming here to have their fawns in relative safety, and I’m sure that they used our horses as babysitters. Now that responsibility falls to Doc. It is obvious that they don’t think Mrs. Fox and I are a threat. Currently, I think we have three sets of twins and several singles all treating our yard as a salad bar.

“The picture shows one fawn (one of a pair of twins) trying to convince Doc to come through the fence and join it in the raspberries.

“We also have a pair of grey foxes raising three kits here. It has been fun for us to see the kits, but I’m afraid it’s been very hard on the squirrel and chipmunk population. These guys are very efficient hunters. Mrs. Fox took this picture of one of the kits honing its tree-climbing skills.”

Our pets, ourselves

Dennis from Eagan reports: “It’s 85 degrees outside, and we have central air-conditioning, yet our living room is still hot. WHY?

“Thanks for letting me ‘vent,’ ROCKY!

“ROCKY joined our family Wednesday, July 14, as the new Stormy! We got him from his Adopt-a-Husky Minnesota foster parents in Lake Elmo.

“He was born September 1, 2020.”

Our theater of seasons
Floral Division

First, Vertically Challenged: “Thought I would send a pic of this interesting zinnia I just picked.”

And now Mounds View Swede: “On a recent visit to Lake Owasso, I walked along the east shore to see what was happening. I found this cluster of petunia-like blossoms.

“There were a lot of ‘sticker-bush’ weeds blooming . . .

“. . . and going to seed. When I saw how many seeds they produced, I understood why there were so many of them.

“Many of the water lilies were blooming, but none were very close to the shore.

“I do not know what this plant is called. If someone can name it, I would appreciate learning.

“The prolific thistles kept getting my attention as I moved along the shore.

“Seeing them brought back memories from my childhood and the nearby prairies that had these plants.

“My main annual-flower purchases this year were petunias. They are almost constantly blooming. I enjoying seeing the great variety of blossom colors and patterns that are available now.

“This is closer to what I remember seeing when I was young and my mom planted them along the back walk.

“A simple white blossoms seems unusual now.

“I hope others are enjoying them, too. With our current drought and heat, I try to water these every other day with sprinkling cans.”


Gma Tom writes: “Subject: Am I the only one? Mother was wrong? Too soon old and too late smart?

“For all of you home canners out there, here is my story:

“You all know of the two-piece canning closer, a lid and a ring. Everyone knows that the ring is reusable, but that the lid, once used, must be discarded.

“Many years ago, probably 35 to 40, there was a shortage of lids, and home canners like myself and my mother searched and scrambled to find enough lids for the season’s harvest. We contacted out-of-town relatives seeking lids that could be purchased in their area and mailed to us. (During WWII, they even manufactured a smaller, ‘size 63’ lid which took less metal product to produce.)

“Well, over the years, whenever a lid did not seal and had to be redone — with a new lid, of course — I sometimes tried reusing the lid that did not seal the first time. Nine times out of nine, that lid then sealed. So this year, I finally got up the nerve to try reusing a used lid that had been on a product from last year, but not damaged when it was removed. Guess what: It sealed!

“My mother would turn over in her grave if she knew how unorthodox her daughter has become.

“Of course, I’m not saying anyone else will have such good luck or that I will ever experience a resealable lid again, but think of all of the perfectly usable lids I may have discarded over the years. Makes me wonder if it was all a scam to sell more lids!”

Could be verse!
Including: Know thyself!

Tim Torkildson writes: “Subject: Ode to Beans.

“Give me a can of beans;
“just any kind you please.
“Kidney, Lima or red;
“and especially black-eye peas.

“I eat ’em with eggs for breakfast.
“Put ’em on toast for lunch.
“At dinner I mash ’em with peanuts
“for satisfactory crunch

“They’re always on sale at the market;
“forty-nine cents per can.
“A pantry full of Goya
“makes me feel like a new man.

“So what if they make me gassy?
“So what if the foodies object?
“I live by myself on fixed income
“and don’t need to be circumspect!”

This ’n’ that ’n’ the other ’n’ the other
Al B of Hartland Division

All from Al B of Hartland: (1) “Bluebird numbers are low this year because of ice storms in the South. It hit other birds that winter there: robin, hermit thrush, song sparrow and eastern phoebe. The storms covered food resources. The loss will be properly assessed by nesting data.”

(2) “Subject: Taking a banana to a picnic.

“A local family had 22 kids. The hardest job for the parents was counting them at picnics. I love picnics. I enjoy eating cold food warm, and hot food cold with insects as condiments and having ice cream melt onto my lap while I’m being watched by a squirrel. My father-in-law Gene salted bananas before eating them. It gave squirrels something to see.”

(3) “Subject: Politicians should walk behind the horses.

“My family attended a Fourth of July parade each year. My father loved horses and didn’t have a high opinion of politicians, but he loved seeing elected officials walking a parade route because, unlike horses, they didn’t poop during a parade.

“I usually became lost in the crowd after following a tractor of a color not seen on our farm or the Shriners (grown men wearing fezzes) squeezed into tiny cars driven in circles, and I became someone else’s problem for a moment.”

(4) “Subject: I’ve learned . . .

“Life is too short for anything to last too long.

“If you embarrass easily, stay out of beanbag chairs.

“There are few things more disgusting than someone else’s used Band-Aid.

“Debate no one online. Argue with an echo instead. You’ll accomplish more.

“A bird in the hand is worth wondering how it got there.

“All overconfidence is unjustified.”

Band Name of the Day: The Favorite Sons

Website of the Day: Sam Giancana

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