Then & Now
LeoJEOSP writes: “Subject: The Snipe Hunt.
“Many boys my age belonged to the Boy Scouts in the 1960s. Many campouts and Winter Freeze Outs showed us how to conduct ourselves.
“One of the traditions was the ‘snipe hunt.’ The Scout was given a gunny sack and told to stay in an area by himself and to be alert, because the snipe appears only when the forest is quiet. You were given a stick to force the snipe into your sack.
“I nicked this from Wikipedia: ‘The snipe hunt is a kind of fool’s errand or wild-goose chase, meaning a fruitless errand or expedition, attested as early as the 1840s in the United States. It was the most common hazing ritual for boys in American summer camps during the early 20th century, and is a rite of passage often associated with groups such as the Boy Scouts. In camp life and children’s folklore, the snipe hunt provides an opportunity to make fun of newcomers while also accepting them into the group.’
“I don’t recall anyone being permanently harmed by participating in a snipe hunt.
“I am hesitant to compare youth of today to those 1960s-era Boy Scouts. But it is such an easy target.
“A snipe hunt today would be the cause of lawsuits and sensitivity training.”
BULLETIN BOARD SAYS: If that is so, it is certainly not the fault of the boys (or, of course, the girls).
Our horses, ourselves (cont.)
The Astronomer of Nininger: “Subject: Saga of Big River II.
“When we talk about ‘wild’ horses, we usually mean those that are free and roam the open countryside, unrestrained. Many of them are feral horses, descended from domestic breeds but loosed to the plains. We call them ‘mustangs,’ hardy, strong, and rugged. One was brought to board at Big River Stables by Linda.
“Linda and her husband, Mike, lived across the river, so she drove her old Chevy over the aging bridge nearly every day to see that horse and work with him. She acquired that mustang from North Dakota and named him ‘LJ.’ Linda had no exceptional riding or training skills, but she possessed immeasurable amounts of patience and perseverance, not to mention her love for him. LJ was basically halter-trained when he came to our ranch, and that was it.
“He was a black horse, quite shiny when Linda would apply Cowboy Magic to his mane and tail. He was pretty stocky, too, about 15½ hands tall (1 hand = 4 inches, measured at the withers). Linda always had a carrot or some other treat in her pocket for him. She had worked as a teacher’s aide, so I think she knew what works. Those treats enabled her to train him into a very safe riding horse and an almost magical, fun-to-watch entertainer. Linda must have done a lot of reading about training her equine companion because she frequently came up with new tricks.
“LJ could readily ‘count’ and with his hoof indicate to you how old he was. On command, he would go to the cooler and return with a bottle of beer. His palate was not particularly discriminating, because he was not able to tell the difference between various brands. Linda also had a 3-foot-diameter stool, about a foot high, and strong enough to hold LJ’s thousand-pound weight. He would mount it, placing all four hooves together, like a circus animal. He was a lot of fun. And when asked if he was Republican or Democrat, he would nod or shake his head ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’
“When Linda would ride him down the road, Toby, one of our ‘barn’ cats, would walk alongside them. Linda enjoyed riding LJ, but not very fast. That way the cat could keep up with them.
“Now that Big River Stables is gone, LJ has moved down the road about a mile. I know he is well cared for and that Linda is happy being there. Bison will soon roam the ground that our horses, LJ, and stablemates made their home. But those horses, LJ and so many others, and their owners, are those we miss the most.”
Our times (responsorial)
Semi-Legend: “Subject: Igloo?
“Reading about igloo dining, I looked at the structures and realized they were, as Twin Cities Business called them, ‘heated, plastic domes.’
“‘Geodesic dome’ was the term I’d been groping for. And I remembered that Buckminster Fuller coined the term. Then I had fun digging up stuff about the ‘engineer, inventor, mathematician, architect, cartographer, philosopher, poet, cosmogonist, and comprehensive designer.’
“But I’d rather dine indoors.”
There’s nothin’ like a simile!
Email from Donald: “This is the opening sentence from George Will’s column in Sunday’s Pioneer Press: ‘Floundering in his attempts to wield political power while lacking a political office, Donald Trump looks increasingly like a stray orange hair to be flicked off the nation’s sleeve.’”
Putin’s War Division
Kathy S. of St. Paul, last week: “Subject: Let there be peace.
“Aside from political stuff, my admiration for the Ukrainians and their president has grown, as the conflict there has grown.
“Their latest innovation, which I think the world should copy, is: They announced that all invading soldiers who surrender to them will be fed, and will be able to call their moms to say they are OK. How cool is that?
“I saw a video of an embarrassed young Russian guy eating, and phoning home.
“Talk about nonviolence!”
Not exactly what she had in mind
Bill of the river lake reports: “Subject: For Your Eyes Only.
“The other day, I called our current eye doctor asking for advice in contacting
another eye facility here in Minnesota. The person that I talked with was
very patient and helpful. She gave me several leads, but it was a struggle
to offer recommended actual names of the eye surgeons at these locations.
“She finally told me that she was ‘flying blind here’ to come up with a few names.
“Now that was very comforting and reassuring, coming from an ‘eye person.’
“I’ll see to it that I follow up.”
Red’s Offspring, north of St. Paul, writes: “Subject: R.I.P., Rice Streeter.
“When I read about cartoonist Richard Guindon’s death this past week, a number of thoughts came to mind:
“(1) I didn’t know him, but he and I were both from ‘out Rice Street.’
“(2) I remembered that he’d drawn for the Minnesota Daily, the Minneapolis paper, and the Detroit Free Press. Two of his cartoons came immediately to mind:
“(a) On the cover of a book which I once owned and long ago lost track of was a picture of a number of pioneers (coonskin caps, etc.) peering into the window of a log cabin. In the foreground, one man is whispering to another: ‘I told you to hire “voyageurs.”’
“(b) The second drawing requires a little background:
“Alan Page was waived by the Vikings and signed by the Bears during the 1978 season. The reason for the move was that Bud Grant wanted Page to increase his weight from 222 pounds, and Page refused. I will not go into detail about Page’s accomplishments while playing for the Vikings; his presence in the NFL Hall of Fame speaks for itself.
“The Guindon cartoon I’m recalling was drawn after Page’s relocation. In the cartoon, there was a door in a hallway (I don’t remember the wording on the door, but it must have had something to do with the Vikings), and the doormat was a Vikings jersey with Page’s number (88) on it.”
Now & Then
The Doryman of Prescott, Wisconsin: “Subject: Idn’t that nice?
“Something sparked a childhood memory this morning, and thanks to the Internet, I discovered that a few simply nice moments in my life were, unknown to me, expertly crafted and achieved the desired effect . . . and were remembered 70 years later. If you remember Miss Frances, I think this will impress you as well: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ding_Dong_School.”
The verbing of America
The Retired Pedagogue of Arden Hills: “From Page 13A of Sunday’s Pioneer Press: ‘The hackers came from around the world. They knocked Russian and Ukrainian government websites offline, graffitied anti-war messages onto the homepages of Russian media outlets and leaked data from rival hacking operations.’”
The Gram With a Thousand Rules: “Remembering my Radio Days, 70 years ago:
“As the Continuity Director at our little bare-bones radio station, it was necessary that I share my office with the Sports Department. It was large enough, with ample room for two desks, my typewriter stand, a tall filing cabinet and one wastebasket. It had the advantage of having a large picture window facing Ninth Street, which made it bright and cheery — almost too cherry sometimes, when gawkers would linger at the adjoining window to watch the news coming off the U.P. wire machine and then wander over to our window and stop to smile and wave and watch me at work.
“I pretty much had the room to myself all day, because our Sports Department consisted of just one guy who came in about an hour before his 5 o’clock airtime. He would yank the afternoon copy off the news machine, come back to his desk, cradling the heap of newsprint. Then he would light his cigar, put his feet up on the desk and proceed to pull out all the sports news, chucking the rest into the wastebasket.
“When I started at the station, the sports guy on staff was a former rather famous Minnesota football player. Since I had absolutely no interest in sports and was oblivious to his fame, I was not properly impressed — which is probably why he never called me by name. In fact, the only time he spoke to me at all was when he threw the unused wire copy in the wastebasket. Every
damn day, he would say ‘Little Girl! Watch this!’ as he would pitch each wadded ball towards the wastebasket, missing it nine times out of 10.”
The way we were
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 in our neighborhood as a palm tree. 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 to 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 love 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 were from Sweden. They stand out in my memory only because their two kids, a boy and a girl, were blond, blue-eyed twins and liked to throw things at me: twigs; rocks; toys; an occasional uprooted plant. My dad called them Frick and 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 and 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 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 bellboy 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 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 mousey 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.’
“’Okay. 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 Rosedale, 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 . . .”
Band Name of the Day: Cowboy Magic — or: The Snipe Hunters
Website of the Day: Buckminster Fuller Institute