24 January 2009

Philadelphia Airport 5am

Air travel still amazes me. By noon I will be a thousand miles from where I now sit, will have been to a museum with Rachel and have driven her across Lake Minnetonka.
I like this city because I always see it at its best. It has a rhythym or a feel that makes it seem familiar, though I have spent just a little time here.

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23 January 2009

What if.....

I am in Philadelphia where one of my earliest ancestors Hans Heider first landed in the 1729 at age 25, with his bride Katherine. In the city at that time lived a 23 year old Ben Franklin, and it is something to wonder if they ever crossed paths.

He settled in the Pennsylvania countryside for a while and farmed, before moving south to what is now West Virginia. His sons later moved on as early settlers of Tennessee territory.

My hotel window looks out on shipyards and docks where he may have first set foot in America.

What if he had stayed? Life takes so many twists and turns. His decision to leave PA for VA was a big decision in his day, one that would put his very life in peril. His decision ripples through the lives of his descendants 250 years later. We expect these big decisions to have big implications. Marriage, career choices, hobbies, all play a role in our lives and the lives of others.

But sometimes so do the little things, though we don't notice it at the time. We look back and see that some little event was one of life's turning points.

In 1974 I stood in a registration center at St. Petersburg Jr. College. I was planning to enroll for the fall. However, I did not like the course offerings, which would require me to start class at 7am most days. Seemed crazy to get up so early to trek across town for class.

On a whim I tossed my application in the trash, went back to my job running a gas station and skipped school for that semester. Six months later I was at another college, in Missouri, attending class at 7 am most days. Little decision, big impact. Impulsive, but somehow it worked.

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22 January 2009


Winter has been colder here than in recent years but wonderful. I know from personal experience that the ice on Lake Minnetonka is two feet thick. Today we move into the high 20's and may touch 30 degrees, the warmest day since late December.

"When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter." Phil Connors

"As I walked in the door the music was clear.
The purtiest voice I had heard in two years.
The song she was singin' made a man's blood run cold.
When It's Springtime In Alaska, it's forty below." Johnny Horton

Ramblings on presidents and inauguration day

In 1993 I started a personal tradition of only watching inaugural speeches in person and when I've been invited to the ball. That was my last one. On the 20th I took care of my clients, and tried to make a little money for my family, which is one of the best thing I can do on this day for my country.
Presidents of my lifetime, ranked in terms of which ones I would most like to have dinner with: Eisenhower, Reagan, Bush II, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Bush I, Carter, Kennedy, Clinton.
Vice Presidents that did not become President, ranked same way: Rockefeller, Cheney, Quayle, Gore, Agnew, Mondale, Humphrey.
President I would most expect to:
Leave a fat tip: Bush I
Leave no tip: Johnson
Understand Atlas Shrugged: Reagan
Misunderstand Atlas Shrugged: Johnson
Have read the Bible: Kennedy
Have a well worn and tattered Bible on their desk: Ford
Write a hot check: Carter
Have a bad drug habit: Carter
Change his own oil: Bush II
Be a closet Communist: Bush I
Have a glass of grape koolaid in his hand: Bush II
Have a gun in the glove box: Nixon
Pass gas and blame his VP: Kennedy
Pass time as a short order cook at Denny’s: Ford
Cut me off in traffic: Eisenhower
Cut in line at Disney World: Clinton
Leave Denny’s with a pocketful of Sweet N Lo: Nixon

18 January 2009

Mom's Home

Among my fondest memories of my years as a little kid are the ones that have to do with Mom coming home from the grocery store. While mundane and routine it was a weekly event that we all looked forward to. Sometimes we would beg Mom to take us with her, but as often as not she went alone. Buying groceries meant spending a big chunk of the weekly budget and it was something she did best when she did it alone.
When finished she would pull up in the driveway and honk. We knew what it meant, but just in case we didn't, my Dad would holler, "you boys go help your mom with the groceries", and we would all bolt outside. It was the one chore that never brought a complaint.
While we were never poor, there were probably days or weeks when it seemed that way to mom and dad and many times when things were close. There was something about bringing home sacks of food that signaled everything was ok. There was money in the bank. The groceries also tipped us off as to whether it was a prosperous time or a tight one. Dried milk, spam and velveeta meant things were tight. "Real" milk, Coke and strawberry preserves meant life was good.
"We're having steak tonite" meant round steak, floured and fried in bacon grease. It was the highest form of beef of the three that Mom brought home, chuck roast, hamburger, round steak. The Cartwrights on the Ponderosa ate steak at almost every meal and sometimes we were like them. I was well in to my 30's before it dawned on me that upscale restaurants did not carry round steak.
Three boys, we tore into the sacks of groceries like inmates just released from a WWII prison camp. Fighting over the new jar of peanut butter or who got the latest bugs bunny jelly glass, or opening up the new cereal box to dig for the prize, it was almost a little like Christmas the way we ripped open the loot.
Dad always took pleasure in opening the new peanut butter and running a finger deep into the jar, like a hoe across unbroken soil. He always got to it first and took a perverse pleasure when someone later opened the "new" jar only to find his handiwork.
There was alway commentary on the quality and quantity of the week's bounty. "Aw Mom, you forgot the Captain Crunch" "Mom, I told you not to get crunchy peanut butter" "Yea, Spaghetti!" "Gee Mom thanks for the Oreos" "Can I have a Coke?" "Can we make some Kool-Aid?" "Can I have some ice-cream?" "Mom you got a lot of groceries... Are we rich?" "You forgot the milk?" "Mom, you forgot the Nestle's Quik!"
The grocery store was usually a Winn Dixie or Piggly Wiggly, the two choices that seem to have been most prevalent for southern folk in the 60's. Of course there was also Quik Chek, Bi-Lo and A&P. I still have my Piggly Wiggly bow tie, a remnant from my high school days sacking groceries. In the days before starbucks and caribou coffee chains, A&P had the machine to grind your own Eight O'Clock coffee, which still provides one of the very best smells on this earth.
Some weeks, though not all, Mom would double check the groceries versus the receipt. I don't know that we've ever done that. Always a chance that we were over charged or something didn't end up in the sacks. Anything wrong with the order meant an immediate trip back to the store to put things right.
In the early years of our marriage, when things were so tight, I always looked forward to coming home to my parents house. There was nothing big or fancy waiting for me. But what was there was the simple things I wanted so much in my own world, a place where the bills were paid on time, where it was warm in the winter and cool in the summer, where the pantry was full, the roof didn't leak. A house that was always empty on Sunday morning. A very fine home.

10 January 2009

A quick trip to the Commonwealth

I love Virginia, mostly. Have had relatives there and our family has a long tradition of connection to the state. My oldest daughter went to school there, I have good friends in Leesburg, wife's ancestors settled in the Rappahannock area and i had a few early ancestors there as well. Great fishing, hiking, and a hotbed of minor league baseball.

Parts of the state are wearing on me after one too many trips there. I've spent a few days there in recent years and it's become quite predicable. There are no surprises here, what was once unique is now mundane. Remants of a bygone area, like most other cities. Interesting but nothing that stays with you. Perhaps a virginian would say the same of Minnesota.

There are a few memorable diversions, particularly the Bellair Market on 250 highway, not far from Charlottesville. It is a gas station with a deli. Surprising. They have a great sandwich, the Belmont.

I had dinner recently at The Club. The people I dined with were fine, great old friends. Not quite as interesting as the witches and warlocks on the downtown mall, but head and shoulders above jefferson, et al.

The locals are warm and friendly, but with a too-strong urge to follow college town stereotypes.

The last Christmas decoration, the outside wreaths, came down today. The lights are still on the bushes but have been turned off. It is the dead of winter.

01 January 2009

Burning the hat and other family traditions

Once upon a time the St. Louis Cardinals went to the World Series and through an odd series of events, lost every game. Swept in four to that team from boston. Rob was home from college the following New Years and stumbled upon a red sox hat in our mud room that one of Caroline's friends had left. "What's this doing here?" he asked as he tossed it in the fireplace. That alone was not enough to start a tradition but the fact that it was new years caused someone to say, "we should do this every year", and it came about that we have.

Family traditions are great. It's part of the cement that holds a family together. Some of ours are things that many others do, such as attending midnight mass on Christmas eve, gathering at the same place every Labor Day weekend, stopping at Cracker Barrel on vacations, Godfather marathons, going to fireworks on July 4th, gathering for prayer for each other.

Some were passed on from our parents, such as saying a prayer in the car before we pull down the driveway on a long vacation drive. We open family gifts on Christmas eve while reserving the Christmas morning for Santa. Thanksgiving and Christmas are unimaginable without sweet potato casserole, a tradition from Robin's family.

Some were unique to places we have lived, such as trips to Ted Drewes for custard after Cardinals games, or keeping a plastic pinwheel imbedded in our St. Louis yard, as Caroline insisted. Thanksgiving hikes up Pinnacle mountain in Little Rock, annual excursions in Arkansas to cut down our own Christmas tree.

Some came to us from our forefathers and go back perhaps hundreds of years such as egg fighting at Easter, and eating blackeyed peas on New Years for good luck. Rob called today while he was driving around St. Louis in search of a can of blackeyes, Rachel is cooking them at her house and we had 'em for lunch here.

But other are things that are probably unique to us. Pepsi biscuits, tracking license plates on styrofoam cups on vacation, burning a red sox hat on New Years Day, keeping Pepto Bismol in the fridge, wearing peanut earrings at baseball games, grinding cheese crackers in our teeth on road trips. In other words, we're a bunch of morons with a pack of silly habits that no one else would appreciate.