Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Writing the great American dream

Ask almost any writer, "How is the novel coming along?" Chances are the conversation will be off and running. Most writers "have a novel. Extremely rare, though, is the author who has actually had one published. Slightly less rare are those who have really finished such manuscripts. And then there are we plodders – some with practically finished stories and others who have yet to touch pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) but with a head full of ideas and a heart filled with good intentions.

Yes, every writer knows that one day he or she will find the time. When the kids are all in school. Or when the kids are all out of school, married and moved away. Or after retirement. Just wait and see. Most of us have a lot of great ideas - and have been taking notes. And have started working on an outline. Maybe next year we will enroll in a typing class - or a computer class.

My own magnum opus is about 80 percent complete, lying in a box, where it has remained, untouched, for almost 10 years. Who knows? Maybe when I've tamed and mastered this wild and headstrong computer...

Until then, we are all still "dreaming the dream" – which is pretty much what life seems to be all about.


The evening sun tires
Of its work in the heavens,
Beds down for the night
Beyond the western sea.

Blackness closes tight
'Round the sleeping wharf, quiet –
Waves murmur – telling
Strange old stories to me.

Tales from ageless days
Of time immemorial –
Until now, untold,
Mysteries yet unsolved.

Lost creatures of old
Now extinct and forgotten...
Dim, dark days before
Humankind had evolved.

Some yarns are about
Sailing ships and grave dangers,
How brave seamen once
Plied the deep with full sails.

Whalers and jailers,
Roving fierce cutthroat pirates –
Adventurers who
Bravely blazed strange new trails.

Soon clear, vivid scenes
Fill my imagination,
Breathe color and life
Into a growing tale –

Material destined
To be the next best-seller
A great masterpiece –
At last – my Holy Grail!

Small waves murmur on,
The half-moon surfs the cloud curls.
New chapters are born,
Quite enough to fill reams.

Then, too soon, my eyes
Close; my quick pen falls idle.
The novel takes form...
But only in my dreams.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


Now, having burned one week of Year 2011, it may be a good time to check out all of those great New Year’s resolutions we made and see just how well we are doing.

Sorry to say, I’ve never taken these promises to myself as seriously as I should. I’m sure that if I, and at least a few other folks, were to look very hard we’d be able to see at least several – or perhaps many – changes we could make in our lives that would result in our becoming better, happier, and even healthier people. And, in so doing, make a number of those around us happier, as well.

OK, why not? That shouldn’t be too difficult. So we make a mental list. But a few days into the New Year these resolutions are forgotten, old habits again hold sway, and life goes on just as before.

Robert Burns said, “The best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley (go oft’ astray)” Many priests, ministers, politicians, and folks of various other walks of life make good and frequent use of the old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

I’ve listened to a number of public speakers who claim to know the secrets of personal and financial success. Most of them advise their audiences to first study their lives, assess their current situation, and identify any problems that have been hindering them. Quite often when people zero in on the stumbling blocks in their path to success and happiness, they are surprised to find that the most harmful of these are really simple things such as laziness, procrastination, and/or their inability or refusal to take and carry out orders.

These obstacles are often just bad habits picked up along life’s way. Old ways of thinking and methods of doing things that have been built and strengthened by years of repetition. They can best be starved out, or crowded out, and eradicated by the constant, frequent practice of the good, new habits. First, a goal must be established, and a list made of the actions that will be required to reach that goal. This list of plans and resolutions must be written down and then kept in a prominent location. Some handy place where it will not be lost or forgotten, but will be seen every day, preferably at least twice per day, morning and evening. Plans for the day can be made in the morning. Then in the evening, successes and failures can be totaled up and compared, and plans made for more positive progress.

While some folks constantly seek improvement and perfection, a few seem perfectly content with the status quo. One old fellow constantly assures his friends and anyone else who will listen, “Sure, I could quit drinking any time I want to, but as flimsy as the national and local economies are right now, I don’t think anyone should do anything to upset the apple cart. The alcohol industry brings in a ton of tax money. And the owner of the Corner Bar here has just bought himself a new SUV and I know that ain’t paid for. And if I quit smoking and chewing, what would happen to all those small farmers who are growing tobacco up there in Vernon County? No sir, if our country slips into another Great Depression I don’t want a lot of people poking their fingers at me!”

Some optimists feel there is no need for major change, and are confident and content just going through life with a positive attitude.


At heart, I’m no “down and outer,”
Not a whiner or a pouter,
I’ve learned negative
Thoughts don’t pay worth a dime.

And, though I’m not good at saying
Lots of fancy words, or praying,
I can sound quite
Optimistic at this time.

New Year’s Eve often sees drinking,
Followed by some fuzzy thinking,
But I’ve grown too
Old now to participate

I prefer philosophizing,
Perhaps even moralizing.
These days I’m in
Bed early more nights than late.

I do no stewing and fretting
And a lot more gray hair getting,
Worrying what’s
Around life’s next turn or bend.

I’m don’t get in a big hurry,
And I don’t wonder and worry.
Usually things
Turn out OK in the end.

With this New Year now upon us,
May the Lord’s blessings be on us.
May our hearts and
Souls be filled with joy and cheer.

May our New Year’s resolutions
Provide the needed solutions
To what problems
We’ll be forced to face this year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


At Christmastime, when I was young, we sang carols and church songs like "Silent Night," also the lively, jolly "Jingle Bells." Through the years these were joined by some good new numbers like "I'm Dreaming Of a White Christmas" and "Blue Christmas." Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" and "The Night Before Christmas" were our standard stories. Later new song-stories came along, including "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," "Frosty the Snowman," "Angie the Christmas Tree Angel" and "Little Drummer Boy."

I still enjoy the beautiful Christmas songs and music that saturate the airwaves and our lives during the holiday season. for two weeks--or three--at the most. Then I decide that cold, dark, snowy January maybe won't be so dreary after all.
Shopping is not all bad. I love to watch the drivers in the mall lots jockeying for parking slots near the main mall entrance. I am amazed at their skill and guile--at their brass and attempts at downright intimidation.

Later, inside the store, they can be seen using much the same strategies and evasive moves while operating shopping carts--cutting each other off at the corners, and effectively blocking off a small display of a scarce item while deciding whether or not to make a purchase.

I spend a fair amount of time looking at the animated decorations. The sleeping, breathing, snoring Santas. And the tiny mechanical animals and elves that festoon artificial trees, barking, yelping, and belching out tunes like "Jingle Bells" and "What Child Is This?"

One thing I miss from the Christmas past is the whisper of currency that has in so many cases been replaced by the sounds of the verification of "plastic pay." Accompanied by the occasional sad, silent shriek of a credit card that is being stretched far beyond common-sense limits.

I am amazed at recent increased participation in and celebration of the Great Day. At times, entire city blocks of homes and lawns are completely decorated with lights--flickering and flashing all over the place. Some neighborhoods remind one, incandescently, of the Las Vegas Strip.

But I often wonder whether any of the warm illumination of these displays ever finds its way into human hearts. What a wonderful world we would have if each of the tiny bulbs actually represented a true expression of love or a real act of kindness.
Christmas is a wonderful time. A beautiful tradition to remember and to enjoy, and to pass on to our children.

I think the owner of a small shop, without giving it a lot of thought, said it best. When asked about the degree of success of his business, he quickly replied, "Thank God for Christmas!"


Scrawny Christmas tree, discarded,
You've seen better times, I know,
As your yellowed needles fall to
Make a carpet on the snow.

For two weeks you lit your corner,
Adding to the season's cheer,
Then your ornaments were taken,
Boxed up for another year.

Out in the back yard they threw you,
In a corner, in the snow,
But you still serve a good purpose,
Something most folks could not know.

You've made yours a life of sharing,
Would have it no other way,
And despite sad circumstances,
You are still giving today.

A small bird, your branches shelter,
With a painful, injured wing;
If I help you out, and feed it,
It will live to fly and sing.

Christmas brings a bounteous harvest,
Precious joys that we can reap;
First, the warmth that comes with giving,
Then, the memories that we keep

Saturday, November 6, 2010



Homecoming weekend was in full swing at the University of Wisconsin. The city of Madison was fairly overrun by grads sporting cardinal red blazers. The supper club we chose for our evening meal was no different.

One of the fellows clad in UW red walked past our table--or almost past it. Then he stopped, turned around, looked me over and exclaimed, "Great Haircut! I like your haircut!"

Good grief! Elroy Hirsch...old "Crazylegs" himself! Former Big Ten football star--later a pro football standout--then athletic director of the University of Wisconsin.

And, as one old gray burrhead to another, he had stopped and admired my haircut! I remembered the Hollywood movie, "Crazylegs," the story of his life. I wondered how many Badger fans were still around who recalled the famous backfield of Hirsch, Pat Harder, Mark Hadley Hoskins and Jack Wink. And the late, great All-American end, Dave Schreiner.

So...Crazylegs stopped and talked to me? Maybe no great shakes as memories go--perhaps even only a mediocre memory--but one that will continue to live on for as long as I have a need or a desire for pleasant memories.


Bits of tattered, shattered memories
Tend to clutter up my mind,
Ideas of no real value,
May best have been left behind.

Deeds that demanded no special
Skills or education vast,
Charting the life I've been living
Won/lost record of my past.

Simple things and not earth-shaking
Healed no wounds, righted no wrong.
Common day-to-day existence
As, through life, I've moved along.

Thoughts that won't make me a nickel,
Buy a home, pay for a car,
Still, I like to tiptoe through them,
So, they'll remain where they are.

Memories of my youth, and older,
Gleanings from my work and play,
Good or bad, they all add up to
Much of what I am today.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Once more, autumn returns to our special, beautiful part of the Midwest. Again, the river bluffs and rocky crags of the unglaciated “Driftless Area” are afire with the bright colors of the leaves of the various hardwood trees and a variety of other plants that cloak many of our hills. Often these areas of brilliant hues are accented by the dark green of small stands of pines, cedars, and various other evergreens. Hopefully, this year we will have a lot of that “October’s bright blue weather” a famous poet once wrote about. With the blue sky above and the sun shining brightly, the scenery is often indescribably beautiful.

Perhaps we become easier to please as the years go by. These days I find a lot of enjoyment in just watching what is going on around me. In her great outdoor theater, Mother Nature can put on quite a show. And you don’t have to make reservations in order to get good seating, or shell out your hard-earned cash for admission tickets.

The Mississippi River is one of my favorite places for sightseeing. There are many parks, boat landings, and other public areas along both sides of the river that are equipped with plenty of benches and picnic tables. If you prefer, you can almost always find a good place where you can set up a folding lawn chair. And just sit back and enjoy.

Some folks really like watching the traffic on the river. The speed boats, jet-skis, and water skiers. And a variety of fishing boats. On rare occasions, we may even see a sailboat. The huge barge tows are always interesting. We can try to guess what they are carrying and what will be their destination. And we can determine how heavily each barge is loaded, by how deep it rides in the water. And then there are the trains. There is a lot of railroad traffic these days. And still that kind of “romantic something” about the sight and sound of a freight train.

And then there are always a goodly number of finny, furry, or feathered critters for us to watch. For me, no “river watching” time beats early October.


I sit here in shady comfort,
Thanks to a big fleecy cloud.
Speed boats out on the Big River
Go a-roaring by, real loud.

I watch antics by daredevil
Kids in wet suits, with ski-jets.
These half-warm, half-cool fall days are
About as good as it gets.

To the north, the sun is shining,
Lighting up bright colored trees.
Up close, the water is rippling
In the gentle autumn breeze.

This world offers many pleasures,
Such as hearing wild birds sing –
If we relax and enjoy them,
We can feel rich as a king.

Outdoor sights and sounds surround us,
Pleasing to the ear and eye,
But we must reach out and grasp them
And not let them just slip by.

In this wonderland, I find I’m
Almost never bored at all,
With this wealth of nature’s wonders
Right here at my beck and call

I watch a hungry woodpecker
With a jackhammer-like bill
That seems almost as effective.
As a big pneumatic drill.

Every now and then I see a
Pair of mallard ducks fly by.
From somewhere high in the clouds. I
Hear a lonely wild goose cry.

A bald eagle slides down out of
The gray sky, seeking a fish,
But this time he comes up empty –
With unfulfilled, hungry wish.

I can see some fellow fishing
Over there in State Line Slough
He’s been throwing back some small ones,
But caught a “keeper” or two.

A huge barge tow moves down river
With murmuring, muffled sound,
Loaded full and riding low, it’s
Most likely New Orleans bound.

I listen to the soft sighing
Of a lonely autumn breeze
Sifting, sorting its way through the
Leaves of brightly-colored trees.

Nature’s full line of enjoyment
Waits right here for you and me.
A great show, and not expensive.
It is mostly all for free.

About all this day will cost me
Is time, and the wear-and-tear
On the seat of these old britches
And my old folding lawn chair.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Jack Buschbom

When a new family moves into a small town, everyone in and around that neighborhood usually takes notice. The Buschbom family's move into Bloomington, Wis. was no different. We were told they came from Kansas, by way of Iowa, and were "rodeo people." The father, Bill, Sr., was a horse trainer and showman, and he had taken a job with Sheriff Joe Greer's rodeo. The boys, Billy, Jr., who was my age, and his younger brother, Jack, wore cowboy boots and learned the trade early.

While Billy was still in grade school he was already performing with his lariats and trick ropes at rodeos, also shows at the Blake's Prairie Fair at Bloomington and at the Twin Picnic (now the Twin-O-Rama) at Cassville. The family later moved to that river town where the Greer Rodeo was quartered at the old Governor Dewey Farm (now the site of Stonefield Village Museum).

We all admired Billy...for the great skills that won him widespread popularity. And we envied him a bit whenever we saw him in his fancy hat and boots...and one of those colorful, shiny western suits he wore when performing.

Later, as the red-haired Buschbom brothers left each year to follow the professional rodeo circuit (where both gained international fame), many of the hometown fans followed their careers, reading stories of their success in the newspapers and often going to see them whenever they performed in the area.

Jack excelled in competition and for several years was the World's Champion Professional Bareback Rider. Billy ranked well up among the better pro bulldoggers and calf ropers, but gained his greatest fame as an entertainer, first with his sensational rope spinning tricks, and later with his trained horse acts. He had a rare knack for working with horses--for being able to teach a horse to work alone in a small circus-type ring, without a rein or lead-line, and to do various tricks and respond to commands, given either vocally or with the snap of a whip. While a large audience "ooh-ed" and "aah-ed," his beautiful golden horse, Sir Roger, would, time after time, leap up, strike out with his forefeet, then kick out with his rear hooves, while still high in the air. Billy developed and performed with a number of other acts, including those with horses named "Mr. Nifty" and "Little Boy Blue."

Billy and his family owned and operated "Buschboms' Cowboy Cafe" in Cassville, Wis. for a number of years. In his spare time, the cowboy-showman taught many impressive and educational lessons on the local pool tables. But during the rodeo season, he and his big car and horse trailer could wind up almost anywhere in this country or in Canada. Anywhere that afforded him an opportunity to compete and to perform for an appreciative, cheering crowd.

Billy seemed as "at home" in the center of the rodeo arena in the Cow Palace or in New York's Madison Square Garden as he did on Amelia St. in Cassville. His travels and performances afforded him the opportunity to meet and become acquainted with a wide slice of the populace, including many people of prominence. His list of friends included many of the cowboy movie heroes and other show business celebrities.

Billy died young--far too young--in 1976. When I visit my grandparents' graves in a cemetery near Glen Haven, I usually stop by Billy's plot. The large monument is appropriately decorated--etched with sketches of a lasso and cowboy boots. The stone not only tells Billy's name and dates of birth and passing, but also informs us that he was a "World Champion Trick and Fancy Roper," and the "Trainer of Sir Roger, Mr. Nifty, and Little Boy Blue--World Famous Horse Acts."

Goodbye, Sir Roger--Farewell Mr. Nifty--and Little Boy Blue.

Happy trails, Billy Buschbom.


Bill, we recall your singing ropes,
Your big gold-plated dreams and hopes,
Those bright and shiny western suits,
White Stetson hat and ostrich boots.

Trick roper in your early years,
Later roped calves and wrestled steers.
With horse trailer and Cadillac
You crossed this country, forth and back.

Your life was built 'round rodeo,
Horses and ropes...the Wild West Show!
You found the thrill success can bring,
Playing "The Garden," center ring!

Your horse, Sir Roger, thrilled each crowd,
Jumped higher, as their cheers grew loud.
You're missed my many, there's no doubt,
Our world dimmed when your flame burned out.