Who are we? We are our stories.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Townes Van Zandt - 12 Years Ago

For the past 12 years, Townes Van Zandt has no longer been "waiting around to die". He was born a child of privilege and old Texas money. And for you Minnesota boys, he got his high school education here, right up the road at Shattuck. (Remember Shattuck? That's where the Ol' Man always threatened to send me, 'cause I was an academic screw off. "If ya don't get your goddamned act together I'm sending ya to Shattuck". In hindsight, he shoulda.) Money doesn't cure all ills though. Townes grew up to be a severe manic depressive, with his long term memory erased by extensive shock therapy. Steve Earle once said that Townes Van Zandt was "the best songwriter in the whole world and I'll stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that." Van Zandt responded: "I've met Bob Dylan's bodyguards and if Steve Earle thinks he can stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table, he's sadly mistaken. -Wiki

Townes died twelve years ago on January 1, 1997, from the wear and tear of a life of ingesting an unbelievable quantity of alcohol and hard drugs. Along the way, when he was straight, he crafted some beautiful, tender songs. Below Earle's response to his death.

Local News

Bad roads. My daughter rolled the Taurus this morning. She's fine. I'm happy, giddy with the exhilaration of being shot at...and missed. I celebrated with Chicken Wild Rice Soup, a pleasant Cabernet and Thai cookies.

The Possum

Freeborn County Fair rolls around in late Summer. They just announced the people who are performing at the grandstand shows. Mr.George Jones will be appearing on August 7th. The comments in the local paper are running 15 to 0 against George, with much excitment generated by Jo Dee Messina. Jo Dee Messina? What planet are these people from? Have none of them ever heard Mr. Jones singing, He Stopped Lovin Her Today? Yeah, it's maudlin and sappy, but it is THE classic country song.

This song came out about the time that my father-in-law, Bob died in our living room. This song wasn't his life, his Florence had been gone for five years, but it's still a tough one for me to get through dry.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

New York Times: Danny MacAskill

Some time ago I posted a YouTube of Danny MacAskill riding his bike. Makes me proud of my few drops of MacLeod of Lewis blood. Apparently the New York Times reads my blog too, because they've gone and started posting MacAskill tubes. Now if he can just try it on a road bike... Hey bicycle haters! (we all know who you are) watch it anyway. Pretend it's a pogo stick or it has a motor on it.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming– “Wow! What a Ride!”

— Hunter S. Thompson

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Mink in Winter

We've had some snow this year. Enough so no fool is walking around whistling I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas. A Christmas this white involves a lot of hard work, a lot of heavy lifting. Here's some shots of the garden in rest mode. In the second shot notice the birdhouse up on the 24' pole. It was intended for Purple Martins, but the Gray Squirrels laid claim to it, and chewed the holes open wider. Damned tree rats. We may have found a temporary answer to the squirrelhouse issue. The critter sitting atop the house in picture three is an American Mink, Neovison vison, sunning himself. I did not see him climb up there, but his exit was less than graceful. After hanging and flinching for quite a while, he dropped to the ground and scurried off down the hill to a burrow in the bank of the frozen lake. We have caught glimpses and evidence of mink (missing Koi) for the past 20 years, but this is the first time we've seen one in Winter.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ernest Csuka

Anyone who has seen my bicycles will recognize the style of Ernest Csuka. All of the other great French constructeur companies are gone. Ernest was a nephew of Alex Singer. Now that he is gone, Alex Singer will probably be the last to fall. Originally all racing bicycles were single speed. If you ride a bicycle with multiple gears you owe something to these French constructeurs.

"Ernest Csuka, constructeur of Alex Singer bikes
for many decades, died on December 22, 2009. He
was 82 years old. Ernest Csuka was the last of a
generation of great constructeurs, whose work in
post-war France had shaped modern bicycles, with
lightweight tubing, modern geometries, and many
aluminum components which later found their way
to racing bikes. Many of the bikes Ernest Csuka
built have been ridden hard for decades, and
still are ridden today. They combine light weight
and a light feel with quality and durability."

Thursday, December 24, 2009


by Aldo Ross

 "Twas the night before Christmas..."

 Always a difficult time for those among us who live alone - the singles, the childless, those who have no close relatives with whom to spend the holidays. Some will spend Christmas Eve by themselves. This is the story of one of them. He sits by the fire, sipping hot tea and watching the flames chase and frolic among the logs. At his feet, a warm pile of sleeping cats. Except for the occasional sputter from the fire, it's a silent night. The winter sun is already setting amid a few crimson clouds, leaving a starry indigo sky to the east. His room grows dim, lit only by the dancing orange flames. It's still early - a few more hours must pass before he makes his rounds. Across the room, leaning serenely against the far wall, is a bicycle. Normally it would be stored for the season, waiting patiently for Spring rains to wash away the road salt, but this evening it stands ready for one last ride before it's winter slumber. Headlights are mounted, along with a single red taillight. A thermos full of hot coffee has replaced the water bottles. Tonight will be a special ride - an honor reserved for this bicycle, which has been favored for the past twelve months.



Curious and confusing changes have been made to the bike. The toptube has been wrapped in cloth tape to protect the paint, and over this a split piece of PVC tube has been slipped into place. Twenty-four silver sleigh bells,arranged in three rows of eight, are attached to a strap of leather at each end of which is tied a length of wire. The strap of bells lays over the top tube, hanging down on either side of the frame, and the ends of the wires are attached to the pedal spindles in such a way that, when the crank is turned, the bells are pulled alternately up and down over the PVC sleeve, so that each revolution creates a "jingle-jingle" sound. It's almost 9:30 - the man begins dressing for the ride ahead. Wrapped in several layers of warm wool, he rolls his bicycle out into the chilly night. Lights turned on, leg over the bike, feet into the pedals, and off he goes. First he rides a lap around his neighborhood. His breath turns to frost in the chilly air, but inside his woolen cocoon, smelling slightly of lanolin, he remains cozy and warm. The bells work as planned, jingling with each stroke of the pedals. Most folks are already in for the night, so the roads are silent and empty - there is only the sound of his sleigh bells in the crystalline air. He has lived in this town for many years, and knows it's neighborhoods well. He knows where many of the children live. Passing their homes, he bounces the bicycle up and down a bit to make extra jingling noises, but only colored lights and silence greet him. First loop completed, he turns onto the main road and heads downtown. He has only a few hours to cover all of the little neighborhoods, his small white light guiding him along the darkened streets. During the ride he thinks about his childhood, and all those early Christmas nights when he lay awake, too excited to sleep. He remembers listening as his parents turned-off the television and went to bed. He recalls the low rumbling from the steel mill across town, where the machinery never slept, and the lonely whistle from trains rolling through the farmlands beyond. A sort of panic would build as sleep continued to elude him. He'd toss and turn, wondering what would happen - would he get in trouble if he couldn't sleep all night? And then he'd suddenly awaken on Christmas morning to a world full of magic. Tonight he continues his ride, visiting one neighborhood after another, covering the entire town, the bells jingling all the way. But what if no one else can hear the bells tonight? Perhaps the televisions are still turned on, the kids are up late playing games on their computers, their exhausted parents having surrendered to wishes to open presents early. But perhaps there is one house, one small room, where one child stares wide-eyed into the darkness... one little believer is wishing for sleep to come, wondering perhaps what time Santa will visit, and how He gets down the chimney, and how He manages to cover the entire world in just one night. Perhaps one small soul will think about the glass of milk and the little plate of cookies left on the table by the Christmas tree. And then, perhaps, they'll hear the gentle jingle of bells outside and rush to the window to see a dot of red light disappearing into the distance. And it won't matter if the light is at road level rather than flying up over the rooftops - an amazing site, otherwise inexplicable - not a car taillight or anything like that, bobbing slightly from side to side as it crests the hill and vanishes. It's three hours later, and the rounds have been completed. The bike rests once more against the far wall. The fire is little more than deep red embers. He sits in his chair, three happy cats napping in a pile amid the warm wool. He thinks about this night's work, reflecting on all the Christmas Eves he's spent alone, and probably will continue to spend alone, and how life isn't always what we expect it to be. 

And he's only a little surprised to find that, on the table beside him, someone has left a glass of milk and a small plate of cookies.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Red Lake Band of the Chippewa

This ramble started as a memory of the greatest basketball game ever played in the Minnesota State Tournament, the Wabasso Rabbits versus the Red Lake Warriors in 1997. The St.Paul Civic Center was packed with thousands of Native Americans in traditional garb, with drums and rattles, from all over the Midwest. The Warriors, an all tribal team, were trailing by 18 points with 4 minutes to go, when sophomore Gerald Kingbird took over and lit up the house with three point shots, taking the game into overtime. Red Lake's lack of depth eventually caught up with their legs and Wabasso won 113 to 117. One hell of a basketball game!

The sketch is Royce Kingbird, a Golden Age master dancer. His home, the Red Lake Rez is large, bigger than Rhode Island, and all tribally owned. After high school, Gerald Kingbird left the Rez for college, but later drifted back to Red Lake to teach high school. He was there in 2005, when there was a horrendous shooting at the Red Lake High School that left 10 people dead. It seemed to be a galvanizing event for the tribe. When I did a YouTube search on "Red Lake Kingbird", I found a number of powwow tapes and these are way better than even a great basketball game. Red Lake Anishinaabe. Go Warriors!

There are about 5000 people living in Red Lake and that many and more of the band living in Minneapolis. Damned if they don't look better and happier at Red Lake. Of course this is a celebration. We're all happier celebrating with family and friends.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Solstice

Hip! Hip! Hooray! Hip! Hip! Hooray!
Longer days start today!

Within the fortnight male chickadees will begin declaring their territorial ownership with whistled "phoebe" calls, the females will notice, and the feathered camaraderie of the birdfeeders will begin eroding. Time and love relentlessly steamroller on. It'll be Spring and new eggs before you know it. Hold these thoughts dear to your heart as the bleak Winter darkness slowly but certainly grinds your sorry soul into road salt grit.
You are welcome. (And thanks to Gabriel.)

Wishful Thinking

Dreaming of a white Christmas. The snowplow just rumbled by. As soon as I finish a mug of strong coffee and a date-filled oatmeal Christmas cookie, I'll go out and fire-up the Husqvarna to blow and shovel the 4" white blanket that fell over the 15" we already had. It shouldn't be hard. The snow is fluffy and it's a quiet 20 degrees outside. We probably won't see the ground again 'til March. The perennials, bulbs and chipmunks of Oakwood are all tucked in safe and warm beneath the blanket. Or maybe they went to the south coast of Texas to lay in the sun until Spring calls them home.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The McLean Pinot Express

I high-jacked these images from Jack Gabus. I have discovered that Jack had a fleeting relationship with Albert Lea, and more importantly, owns three McLean bicycles. Three! This little rig is being modified with a custom rack for his wife, or rather for his wife's wine.

The Pinot Noirs are tough grapes to grow. They like cool, foggy conditions, so they often don't fully ripen and they can be a little foxy. Oregon's Willamette Vally produces some of the best Pinots in the world, and also some that are simply dreadful. There are no passable cheap Pinot Noirs. You either pay up front or find a tolerable Malbec you can live with. I'm not familiar with the Sineann winery, but if someone is going to the trouble of building a special rack to tote them, we can safely assume they are pretty good wine.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Cycling Tour

This is another one for Margadant... and Wenker. I do kind of object to the bicyclist being portrayed as a simpleton. A boring simpleton. Where the hell do they get that? Bicycles boring? And more importantly, BICYCLISTS?! Better block out 30 minutes for this. Half an hour well spent I would say.

Nice bike. For you bicycle people out there, is it a Raleigh International? If not...?

Hampsten's Epic Ride

This beat up frame hangs from a peg in my local bike shop. It was ridden by Andy Hampsten for the Levi team in 1985.

Three years later on Stage 20 of the Giro d'Italia, riding for the 7-Eleven Team, he launched a solo attack on the Passo Gavia in freezing rain and snow. His brakes froze. The dérailleurs iced up. Minimal braking, no shifting. He was overtaken at the end, but placing second launched him into the Giro lead and he became an Italian hero forever. Riding to school in the snow of Grand Forks, North Dakota served him well. He is still the only non-European to win the Giro d'Italia. Not even Mr. LeMond nor Mr. Armstrong.

I like, "Please send my my pots and pans from Texas." He must have sensed he was going to make it over there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Some Yin for Her Yang

This is for Debb... to help bring some balance to her life.

That Old Time Feeling

These are lyrics to a Guy Clark song. My favorite (today). Guy does it half sung, half spoken backed by a simple, clean guitar. The YouTube that showed up is a David Allan Coe version, who sings it all, and the SOB even has the audacity to "improve" the melody AND the lyrics. His phasing sucks too- a pause is NOT a bad thing! Jeez. There's one by an amateur who also thinks he knows more than Guy about how this should be sung. Jeez, jeez Louise! Go buy it on Guy Clark Keepers CD which has a bunch of his best early pieces. Click on the song samples. If you aren't moved to buy the CD, maybe...maybe we're not living similar lives.
And that old time feeling goes sneaking down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keeping close to the wall.
And that old time feeling comes stumbling up the street,
Like an old salesman kicking the papers from his feet.

And that old time feeling draws circles around the block,
Like an old woman with no children, holding hands with the clock.
And that old time feeling falls on it's face in the park,
Like an old wino praying he can make it 'til it's dark.

And that old time feeling comes and goes in the rain,
Like an old man with his checkers, dying to find a game.
And that old time feeling plays for beer in bars,
Like an old blues-time picker who don't recall who you are.

And that old time feeling limps through the night on a crutch,
Like an old soldier wondering if he's paid too much.
And that old time feeling rocks and spits and cries,
Like an old lover remembering the girl with the clear blue eyes

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


From the blogger interests profile of one of Jon Hamachi's friends:
"getting kicked out of Borders for putting all the bibles in the fiction section....".

The Laptop

This is from Margadant. I am assured that it is hilarious. Maybe. I've played both of these roles enough times that I don't know anymore. Just wait 'til the old boy gets his whole life stored in that damned book and his harddrive fails. Hah, then he'll wish he had scroll backup!
While I have you all here together, listen up people, I have a word for you, rather two words: Back up! either locally or offsite. For those of you who assume your harddrive will keep spinning for eternity at a bazillion rpms and won't fail before the Rapture, you are wrong. They all fail, it's just a matter of time. You guys be careful out there - do as I say, not as I do.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Two Room School

I am the product of a two room school, Clarks Grove Independent School District 21. After six years of this, we were bused ten miles down the road to Albert Lea for grades 7 through 12, so we could catch up. Most of my shortcomings in life are due to the fact that I was deprived of a kindergarten education, pissed away six years in unsupervised chaos trying to educate myself, and I've spent most of my life struggling to catch up. This grade one through three photo was taken in 1951.

I need help with some of the details here (Everett, are you listening?)

Row one, desk one: JoDell Johnson, my first girlfriend. Her father and mother ran the "beer joint" on the edge of town. Our young love was cut short when her father, drunk and angry over a card game, shot his neighbor dead. He went to prison and her mother took JoDell and just went.
Row one, desk two: Sue Rietveld, cute as a button then. Still is.
Row one, desk three: Eugene Thompson, he's a third grader, sitting with the first graders. I assume he was already being punished for something. Being a third grader, he already had a history. He and Ben were regularly locked in the coal room in the basement with the lights out for punishment. One time they got loose and made their escape out the back door. Which may explain the later rope incident.
Row one, desk four: I think she's a Meyers. If so, her father was electrocuted the next year in an accident at the grain elevator.
Row one, desk five: (?) Johnson. I think she moved during the year.
Row one, desk six: Me. I was in shock. I had never been called "Neil" in my life. I was not Neil. Neil was my grandfather. This is obviously taken on day one before it was discovered that I am as blind as a bat. That may explain the blank look.

Row two, desk one: Ruth Anne DeRaad. Never as innocent as she looked, but really nice. She died as an adult in a terrible automobile accident that killed four people. I still miss her when I remember.
Row two, desk two: Joyce Steinbeck. Known as Foyce, because she struggled with her cursive. She taught me a lot when we hit Junior High.
Row two, desk three: Karen Marie Peterson.
Row two, desk four: Duane Lembke. My cousin Dewey. We always had a tenuous relationship. I have no idea where he is now. 
Row two, desk five: Karen Meyers (See row one, desk four).
Row two, desk six: June Jensen. "Bugs".
Row two, desk seven: Shirley Jacobson.
Row two, desk eight: Kenny Nelson. "Mouse".

Row three, desk one: Karen Rae Peterson.
Row three, desk two: Joylene Hanson. My sister-in-law. Deceased. 
Row three, desk three: Jack Jensen. Lorna's cousin. I had dinner with them last Sunday. He's still smart.
Row three, desk four: Gail Ravenhorst. Another smart kid.
Row three, desk five: Jay Bowman. .
Row three, desk six: Steve Halvorson.
Row three, desk seven: Ben Schoen. Eugene's partner-in-crime.

Row four, desk one: A guess - Linda Phillips? Pretty sure on Phillips. Always kind of scary looking. She stared a lot.
Row four, desk two: Vallie Jensen. Bugsy's sister. Should have been a model. She's still a knockout at 67.
Row four, desk three: Another Johnson sister.
Row four, desk four: Leigh Swenson. "Polecat". A lot of memories, none of which are fit to publish. The preacher's son. He was always afraid God was going to strike him down. Eventually he did.
Row four, desk five: Chuck Wedge.

There they are, 26 kids in three different grades, taught by one teacher, Mrs. Violet Jensen, who probably had a year or two in a "Normal School". She tried her best. And they wonder why I'm... slow. So much of what I remember is either too personal or too hurtful to publish here. They are as responsible as my parents for what I have become (except for that genetic thing). In so many ways, they are me.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Melia on Our Lady's Day

I was in Puerto Rico with Gary Walker and Jorge Jimenez about ten years ago. The purpose of the trip is complicated, but wasn't intended to be fun. It was work all day, then drive to the next town, find a hotel and a place to eat and drink far into the night. On day two or three the rules changed when we hit Ponce and the Hotel Melia. All of central Ponce is old, some buildings 200 or 300 hundred years. The tourist hotels and "progress" are all a few miles down the road along the beach. The only place to stay in the old town is the Melia on the town square.

As we entered the lobby of the Melia a man greeted us with a deep bow. In thickly accented English he said, “Gentlemen. Welcome ... (a sweeping gesture of the hand) ... to The Melia!

The Melia is over a hundred years old but it has an elegance that only comes with age. She is a fine looking older lady, with slightly thread-worn clothes, but with definite class and breeding. Her floors are hand-painted tiles, with wood paneled walls reaching up to the high wood ceilings with chandeliers and slow turning paddle fans. All that is missing is a fat man in a white suit and panama, smoking a cigar at the round table behind the palms.

After signing in we talked to some of the other guests. It became apparent that the Melia had a chef - a chef good enough that people came from the U.S. to just to eat. Professional eaters. They sat around talking and reading books, waiting for the next meal. So, after we spent the evening walking around the old town and stopping at the open front bars for a drink or two ... or three, we were looking forward to breakfast the next day.

Morning came early... to cannonfire and military music, singing and voices garbled through bull horns. In my grogginess all I could think of was the recent protests and "Yankee Go Home" signs we had seen painted on walls. "Shit, there's been a Goddamned revolution!" After I got my clothes on and stepped out on the balcony, I could see the parade was less threatening. There were a bunch of old soldiers, a brass band, and children in their crisp, clean school uniforms marching with flags. It was sunup on December 12, the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I still don't know what the cannons had to do with Our Lady, but they certainly scared the BeeJesus out of me, so I guess they did have some religious significance.
(coda option 2: "... they certainly scared the Hell out of me...etc")

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Dutchman

My Uncle Harold is a Dutchman, one generation removed from Holland. He began life as a vegetable farmer in Hollandale, Minnesota, and retired as a corporate CEO. I remember him when he was young, an intelligent worldly man, sure of himself and confident, sometimes to a fault. As he got older he relied more and more on his Kathleen to run the day to day details in their life. She died three years ago, leaving him depressed, half a man, a man not equipped to deal with life alone. His children have helped him, and two weeks ago they made the hard decision. Dan, his oldest son, loaded up Harold and all his essential belongings in a moving van, and they headed for Iowa where Dan lives. It was a particularly difficult time, because Harold became confused and did not remember who all these strangers, his children, were.
There are probably better versions of this song out there, but this is by Michael Peter Smith, who wrote the song. This is for Uncle Harold and his children. And for Kathleen, his Margaret, who left him alone too soon .

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Snow Day!

School was called off due to weather so it was a snow day here in Oakwood. The photo was taken by our neighbor, Sally from her house up the narrow, curving lane to our house, Bleakwood. By her wind shelter measurement we received 15" of snow. This was driven by 40 mile per hour winds whipping off the lake. All the snow that falls on the ice of Fountain Lake eventually ends up in my driveway. The drifts were bad. I have a 4-wheel drive Ford Ranger, but today that was not an option. There were no fool hearty runs to a cafe for breakfast and coffee. While Lorna baked cookies, I got out the shovels and the Husqvarna and blew snow off our sidewalk and driveway, and then over and did the neighbor's. The plows finally made it through in mid-afternoon, so now we are free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are... free at last!

Hello Winter, (hello, hello) how'd things go for you today? The temperature is falling fast to -8 tonight with -28 wind chill. Tomorrow will not be a day for moving snow. And besides that, I am one sore puppy. And tomorrow will be worse. Time to fire up the whirlpool jets!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Phil Willey and Hemingway's Whiskey

Earlier I mentioned that Willie Deville reminded me of my friend Phil. Phil was smart, always interesting to talk to, and he could make things with his hands. He delivered wonderfully quotable lines, most of which are not repeatable in mixed company. He made things as diverse as motorcycles, jewelry and guns. The guns varied everywhere from Civil War cannons, muzzle loaders, to Colt revolver replicas. When I say he made them, I mean he made them. They weren't put together from kits, they were made from round steel bars and blocks of raw tool steel. They were amazing. He really made things with his hands.

One day I was admiring his leather shirt. It fit his lean body like a worn work glove. The seams were laced with matching leather and it was fastened with a row of polished horn buttons. "Man Phil, that is one great looking shirt!"  Big smile, he said, "Thanks. I made it. People say they make things, but they usually just finish 'em. I really made this. I made the gun and cast the bullets. I shot the deer with the gun I made and tanned the hide with it's brains. I cut the pieces and laces from the hide and sewed them together.  The buttons are cut from the antlers. I made this shirt." Phil died of an aneurysm about 15 years ago, maybe longer. Time and friends tend to slip away.

Somehow I thought of Phil when I saw this Guy Clark video. Guy builds his own guitars. He read Hemingway as he drank the whiskey, so we didn't have to. He weighed the whiskey against the writing, and wrote his thoughts on paper. Then he picked up a guitar he had made with this own hands and sang this song for us. He made this song. This is about as good as "country" music gets. I just love a guitar that rings like a mellow wooden bell. Enjoy:

My father died at the age that I am now. If your father is still with you, savor your time, savor his time. Enjoy your father while you still can.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Red Dwarf...I'm all alone, more or less

Red Dwarf is a BBC series of the ilk that makes Lorna leave the room to read in peace somewhere else in the house. If there is anyone in my world that isn't familiar with the plot set up, the main characters are Dave Lister, the last known human alive, and Arnold Rimmer, a hologram of Lister's dead bunkmate. The other regular characters are Cat, a lifeform that evolved from Lister's pet cat; Holly, Red Dwarf's computer; and my favorite, Kryton, a service mechanoid. (per Wiki ...more or less)
I love the music and my affection tends to grow as we plunger deeper into the frigid abyss of Winter.
Per 1410 Company Position Policy D3-b, I am forbidden to defend that opinion.

It's cold outside, there's no kind of atmosphere
I'm all alone, more or less
Let me fly far away from here
Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun

I want to lie shipwrecked and comatose
Drinking fresh mango juice
Goldfish shoals nibbling at my toes
Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun
Fun, fun, fun in the sun, sun, sun

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Billy Steward

I think there is Outsider Music just as there is Outsider Art. Just when I become jaded, I've heard it all, there ain't nothing left, Cheri Register gives me the gift of the late Billy Steward singing Summertime. Thanks a bunch.


I was getting ready for Winter, cleaning out the old gene pool and came upon something interesting near the bottom. My grandfather and namesake, Neil C. Berg emigrates from Denmark at the age of 16. He went to back to school, learned English (no accent), and volunteered when WW I broke out. He returned a shell-shocked Gunnery Sergeant, baggage he dragged around the rest of his life. 

Then things get a little murky. I know he went to the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, before marrying Grandma in 1920, and possibly after. He also worked in California, but I'm not certain of the timing of that. I do have records that indicate he was ordained as a Baptist minister in 1920, the same year as he married and took his first church in Nebraska.

The report card below and a diploma indicate he apparently went back to school and graduated later from Des Moines University in the Spring of 1928, The sequence of events becomes a bit fuzzy. He had nice neat consistent report cards right across the board. No one every implied that N.C. was not intelligent or well read. Hell, he even picked up bonus points for Chapel Attendance.

These dates only came important when I Googled the history of the demise of Des Moines University. I recall him talking about student unrest, but apparently more than I realized and he was in the last graduating class.

"...things came to a head when board chairman Thomas T. Shields fired the entire faculty on May 11, 1929. A few hours later a riot broke out among the students. Angry students marched on the administration building in the afternoon, and that night 150 students attacked the building where the board of trustees was meeting. They threw eggs and rocks and attempted to break down the door to the room where the board members were hiding. Eventually police drove the students from the building, but not before they had wrecked the front office of the school administration building. The school closed in September 1929."

Adena, Starjumper

This one from my daughter's blog made me smile really deep inside.


The dog's name on the papers was Berg's Buff Orpington - my Father's quirky sense of humor. The Buff Orpington is actually an old chicken breed of the same color. We just called him Buffer. He was a Field Bred Cocker Spaniel, the hunting dog Cockers were before breeders wrecked them by downsizing and citified them. They were the local breed of choice for pheasant hunting, all of the same line of sturdy brush busters, most the same color.

Now people buy "free range" chickens. In the small town 1950s, all the dogs were "free range". The only dogs that were chained or leashed were runners or biters. The dog adopted me as his sidekick. As long as I could remember he was a constant, by the bed when I woke up, with me everywhere I went all day, and up the stairs when I went to bed. When I started school he went with me, did his doggy things all day, and was back waiting for me by the door when I got out. I didn't think of him as a pet. He was more like an extension of myself.

That closeness occasionally got us in trouble. One time we were chasing Mrs. Andrew Hanson's miserable old cat. We came barrel-assing around the corner of her house, the cat running for it's life, the dog trying to end it, and poor little Gunnar just trying to keep up to watch the ensuing fight. The old lady opened the screen door for the cat and slammed it hard. Buffer never missed a stride. He went through the door like it wasn't even there. Hence fore, we were banished from that neighborhood. One more place we couldn't go.

The one that was the worst was the "peanut incident". Two things you should know. One, peanuts were sold in bulk from large burlap bags which sat on the oiled wood floor of the grocery store. Two, it was not unusual for my dog to follow me into the store. Yep, he marked those peanuts really well. Another place we were banished from for life. It seems like a lot of people swore at my dog.

Like most dogs, Buffer was a superb judge of character. He got along with just about everyone, except that old bastard, Alfred Johnson. Now Buffer was oversized for his breed, a substantial animal. Old Alfred was not allowed to pass. He had to cross the street to get by to get uptown and pick up his mail. This may have been a tactical error by Buff. Alfred had a reputation as a dog hater, a poisoner, and probably finished off Buff. At least I blamed him. We found Buff dead under Rhoda Jensen's back porch. My buddy Polecat and I buried him in the backyard. Polecat's father was the preacher, so we marked it with a cross made from a yardstick, assuming he was a Christian dog, and quite likely a Baptist.
Rest in Peace, Buff Orpington Berg.