Sunday, December 21, 2008


In our hearts, the story lives on:
A dark night, with one bright star,
Angel choirs singing to greet
Three wise travelers from afar.

Before beginning their journey
They'd pondered which gifts to bring,
Then chose gold, myrrh, and frankincense
Fit gifts for The Newborn King.

At a stable, they joined shepherds
Who had left their flocks that night.
Walking to the songs of angels,
They, too, followed the star's light.

Together, both high and lowly,
Knelt down on the earthen floor
Before the babe in a manger,
To worship and to adore.

Could any of that group have guessed
That all else would fade away,
But that Baby in the manger
Would still be worshipped today.

Saturday, December 13, 2008


Once again, whether we are ready or not, the Christmas Season has arrived. Just as it does every year. A time when many folks find themselves busy. Perhaps more so than they should be. Sad to say, Some people wind up finding themselves too busy to really enjoy the great season.

There are last minute gifts to buy and food to prepare. There are plans to be made. Often travel plans, and at a time of year when the weather and road conditions can be anything but cooperative. Airports are often crowded with people who are frantically trying to work their way around flight cancellations so they can make it home for the holidays.

Christmas is a time for family and for friends. A time for people to enjoy the company of others. And a time that seems to bring out the best in people. A jolly season that can help us forget our problems. And forget that winter has just begun, and the long, cold month of January lies directly ahead of us.While driving at night, we can hardly help but feel our spirits lift as we view the Christmas lights that decorate homes and places of business.

Christmas is a time to reminisce. To drift back to childhood and try to recall the feelings of anticipation of the Great Day. At the country school attended, we decorated the schoolroom and put up a large tree. We all drew names and then each of us bought a small present for the person whose name we drew. These fits were placed under the tree.

Each year we put on a Christmas play, an evening event followed by a social meeting for parents and students. Santa Claus would appear just in time to hand out the fits beneath the tree, along with a paper sack of candy and mixed nuts for each student. A neighbor and family friend named Matt Schiffman was the best I've ever seen at playing that role. He was convincing enough to almost make believers out of some of us boys who were old enough to know better.

Christmas decorations were quite simple back then. Almost every family I knew put up and decorated a tree, often a small, freshly cut cedar tree. For appearance these could not begin to compare to the neatly pruned commercial spruce, fir, and pines available only with a homegrown tree.

Most of the Christmas trees in our neighborhood were decorated with a few strings of red roping and tinsel. Most had a star on top. There were few glass ornaments and so strings of lights. Later, shiny foil icicles became popular. Some children cut strips of paper and then, with paste, made loops, or links to form paper chains to hang on the tree. I"ve witnessed a few attempts to string popcorn for the tree, but most of these tries were short-lived, ending with few popped kernels on the strings, more kernels broken by the needle. And, eventually, most of the popcorn eaten by the unsuccessful stringers.

As the years went by, the Rural Electrification Act put electrical power into most of the farm homes. Small wreaths with a single lighted bulb in the center became available. Then, soon, thee were strings of six or eight colored lights. The aggravating kind, wired in series, so that when one bulb burned out the circuit was broken and they all went dark. A far cry from today's strings of a hundred or more bright colorful, blinking or marquee bulbs.

One way or another, the story of Christ's birth is still being told. As it has been for more than 2000 years.

A story has been handed down
As years have come and gone.
Still told to children by adults,
That great legend lives on.

The tale of a Savior who came
To cleanse us of all sin,
But no grand welcome did He find,
With no room at the inn.

We are told the Christ Child was born
In lowly stable small,
No proper place for Newborn King -
Fit for no child at all.

The angel choirs sang out for joy
On that first Christmas Day.
Shepherds, in wonder, gathered 'round
The manger where He lay.

Now, years later, we enjoy great
Old songs carolers sing.
On Christmas Morn, faithful gather
When the glad church bells ring.

We all await the peace and joy
The great day holds in store
And, in our hearts, almost become
As small children once more.

As Christmas fills our lives, and hearts,
All other gifts seem small
When compared to God's gift of love,
The Greatest Gift of all.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Each year, late autumn begins dropping hints as to what lies ahead. Day by day the cooling temperatures remind us of the coming of winter. Another Midwest winter with all of its snow and cold, its slippery, icy roads, and its cancelled activities and appointments. Winter, with its huge (this year exceptionally huge) home-heating fuel bills. Such weather is really nothing new. We’ve all been there before.

Everyone loves springtime. The bright, warm days and new plans for the coming summer. And all of that fresh, new, green growth. Many of us look forward to the return of the songbirds and the northward migration of waterfowl.

As we move through the summer, we may begin to complain about the heat and the insects. And about all the work the lawn and garden require. Also the air-conditioning costs. But, overall, most of us are usually quite happy and content. We can usually find a spot of shade where we can sit and relax and think. The warm weather makes possible many sports and other outdoor activities. And who can remain unhappy long when surrounded by our beautiful green fields, hills, and bluffs. And our great rivers and

Even long after retirement, many of us who grew up on farms still thrill to the growth progress we see in the roadside cornfields. As we drive by, we watch for fields in which the young plants have reached the “knee-high stage.” Next we keep an eye out for “hip-high corn,” and later for corn that is “shoulder-high.” Next, it is the “tasseling out” and “shooting ears” stages. Lush, healthy green of knee-high, weed-free fields of soybeans and alfalfa can have a calming, almost healing effect on a worried, troubled soul.

Next comes autumn, which is most people’s favorite season of all, and the one we would least want to miss out on. When the hardwood trees and sumac begin to don their bright clothing, it is almost as if we are in a different world, one with its own sights, sounds, and smells. Fall is a great season for nostalgia. For remembering countless great times we have enjoyed in many autumns long gone by.

After the bright leaves have fallen, we know that it will be only a short time until the landscape will be wearing a white blanket of snow. And then we must face that annual question: Go or stay? Do we really want to remain here to face another frigid and angry winter? Or should we join the “snow birds,” and head for a warmer southern clime?

So far, except for occasional trips that are two or three weeks in length, we have always opted to remain here in the frosty Snow Belt. Perhaps we are in a rut. Or maybe just content with our regular routine here at home. Or curious to see just what the heck is going to happen next around here. No, I can’t say that we really enjoy winter all that much. But we also have no real desire to leave.


Early morning radioSays,
“No school, because of snow.
And no basketball, as well.”
Tomorrow? Too soon to tell

Beneath dark and brooding sky
White snowdrifts are soon knee-high,
Raging north wind howls and roars,
A good day to stay indoors

All day long this storm will rage,
Best check the fuel tank’s gauge,
Keep all doors and windows locked,
Be thankful our shelves are stocked

Make sure the snow shovel’s near,
Check all snow removal gear,
Everything we’ll need and use,
Mittens, scarves, and overshoes

Wind-driven snow moves and shifts
Front walk hides ‘neath waist-deep drifts.
Driveway heaped from street to door
Snowplow will add a lot more.

Power lines must all be down
Up on the north end of town.
Neighbor gives a friendly call –
No heat at the bingo hall

Friends in Arizona boast,
Weather down there’s warm as toast.
They phone just to rub it in,
I can almost see them grin.

Winter visits us each year,
But what do have we to fear?
Just the thought of spring’s warm smile,
Almost makes this all worthwhile.

Truly, what could be more grand
Than this winter wonderland?
Wouldn’t it seem sadly strange
Not to see the seasons change?

So far, this winter’s been rough,
The next month could still be tough.
’Though right now we’re in a bind,
Can springtime be far behind?

Friday, November 21, 2008


For me, Thanksgiving has always been kind of a special holiday. Farm children can easily relate to celebrating, and giving thanks for, a bountiful harvest or a successful hunt. And I always have loved food.

One year, Gloria and I celebrated Thanksgiving in the Boston area with our son Mick. I thought it was great to be able to celebrate right in the area of the very first Thanksgiving. But I found that there are some mixed feelings about the great day.

Each year, hundreds and even thousands of members of the United American Indians of New England, along with many of their friends and supporters, gather on Cole’s Hill, an area that overlooks Plymouth Rock, to observe their “National Day of Mourning.” A sad occasion brought about by the survival of the Pilgrim colonies and the colonization of America. The day is devoted to prayers and speeches.

One of their elders, Mahtowin Munro informed the crowd, “As Native Americans, we have no reason to give thanks for the European invasion of our land, and the genocide of our people. We are also here to talk about the continuing racism and oppression that we still face today.”

“We celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the settlers, and after that they took the land of the Native Americans,” said Edwin W. Morse, “Chief Wise Owl,” leader of the Chaubunagungamaug band of the Nipmuc tribe. “Indians saved the settlers and taught them how to survive – fed them and kept them alive. Every day is a feast day for Indians. Each day when we have dinner we thank the Creator.”

This autumn congregation of the Native Americans has not always been welcomed with open arms. In 1997, violence broke out. Twenty-five Indians were arrested. After the dust had settled, the town of Plymouth agreed to dismiss all charges if the protesters promised not to pursue misconduct charges against the police. It also agreed to put $100,000 into an education fund that would focus on American Indian history, to pay for the legal fees of the protesters, and to spend $15,000 for a plaque that will explain history from the point of view of native peoples. Its message will be a reminder of the genocide of millions of people, the theft of their lands, and the relentless assault on their culture.

We celebrated our Thanksgiving in the East much as we always have here at home, with turkey, dressing, and all the “fixin’s.” We really enjoyed our first trip to New England with its “stern and rock-bound coast.” I’m sure there will never be a shortage of rocks and boulders out there. We loved visiting the smaller villages. Each had a “common.” In early days these park-like, grassy areas were used as meeting places in the time of emergencies. Many now have plaques and statues to honor their founders and heroes. And tell of important happenings of bygone days.

New England architecture has its own style. And it appears great efforts are made to adhere to this. Almost no glitz or golden arches. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a fast food restaurant or a filling station from establishments that are centuries old. I had only a few complaints with the area. There seemed to be a decided shortage of public restrooms. And those found in the places of business are there strictly for the use of customers only!

We really enjoyed a parade in Douglas, Mass. Riding a trolley, we wound up right in the parade itself, waving to the crowds gathered along the streets, just as if we belonged there. Then we watched a long line of parents with small children wait for as long as two hours just to visit with Santa Claus. As the dark of night descended, we witnessed the “lighting of the common.” The mayor threw a giant (dummy) switch and all of the trees were simultaneously lighted with myriads of colored Christmas lights. Then followed a period of carol singing. It was a Thanksgiving week we will long remember.


In the kitchen, women’s faces

Glowed from heat and pride and sweat,

Putting our noon meal on, knowing

It was their best effort yet.

Big old gobbler from the farmyard

Filled the roaster to the brim.

He steamed real good on the platter;

We sure did our best on him.

Our meal was a feast, the biggest

And best I have yet to taste.

And there’s lots of good leftovers,

I know none will go to waste.

As we sat down at the table,

Grandpa Lowther said a prayer.

He talked of that first Thanksgiving

Just as if he had been there.

Uncle Lige Craig said, “We like to

Hear about those days of old,

But pass down them mashed p’taters

Before they start getting cold.”

It’s been dark for several hours now.

The sun’s slipped behind the hills,

But I’m not ready for supper,

I’m still filled up to my gills

With too much Thanksgiving turkey,

‘Taters, pumpkin pie, and squash,

But I’ll give it my best effort.

I’ll be no quitter, by gosh!

I’ve never been strong on history,

But there’s no way I can see

That the Pilgrims and the Indians

Had as good a day as me.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


Some years ago a young fellow came up to me during a break in the action at a poetry reading and told me that my poems reminded him a lot of the work of Robert W. Service. I thanked him. I'll take a compliment anywhere I can get it. My Gosh! Robert W. Service yet! Almost every red-blooded young man has read "The Shooting of Dan McGrew." Maybe even memorized parts of it. And perhaps heard and memorized some of the downright bawdy versions and revisions that have cropped up from time to time. And then there was "The Cremation of Sam McGee." I liked "The Spell Of the Yukon" best of all. Some of that rhyme was written so well that it almost gave me goose bumps. Almost to the point where, as an old fellow once said, he "almost hankered to start sprouting a few feathers."

I basked awhile in the glow of the kind compliment, then filed it away in my memory, where it remained untouched and uncalled for, until several weeks ago. A rerun of the TV show "Northern Exposure" found Dr. Joel Fleishman becoming homesick for his native New York City. In all that town of Cicely and the surrounding area, he had found not one other person of Jewish descent. Joel confided in the pompous, influential ex-astronaut, Maurice Minnefield, who wasted no time in trying to assure the young doctor that he was not alone. That he was not the first of the Chosen People to venture north into the cold and untamed land--and he pointed out various mountain peaks that had the names to prove it.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Politics, Not Royalty, Should Dominate Playing Cards

I enjoy a few games of cards occasionally, but can never really get excited about playing. Shuffling that same deck all afternoon or evening becomes too much like just sitting there spinning one's wheels.

My mind tends to drift off to other things: All those kings and queens! What is this fixation we still have with royalty? After the Revolutionary War why didn't some loyal colonist design a new, truly American deck? One with presidents, veeps, chief justices and secretaries of state? The cards could display caricatures or photos of the actual office holders. After elections, card sales would boom as players brought their equipment up to date. Certainly no one would want to play with an obsolete deck. Old decks would quickly become valuable collectors items.

All of the card games I play are "male-oriented,' with the kings outranking the queens. Even the jacks, when they happen to be the bowers of trump, can pull rank on the queens. Where are all of our militant feminists? Why aren't they beating against the glass ceiling that prevents our poor queens from attaining equal power? We could change the rules perhaps allow the red kings to outrank the red queens and the black queens dominate the black kings. But that would be too confusing. And smack a bit of
discrimination by color..

And then there is the matter of those male jacks. If we are really seeking sexual equality, we should add female counterparts to the deck. The simplest way to accomplish this would be to give each sexless ace a gender – make each a feminine card. We could decorate them with pictures of beautiful ladies. But not attractive or suggestive enough to raise the hackles of those who have fought so valiantly and long to eliminate the bathing suit competition from beauty contests.

As long as our deck of cards is already committed to royalty, why not add a princess? A jack is often referred to as a knave. It is not unlikely that a princess card would at times be called a wench, or worse.

What would I suggest for a proper illustration for each of our new ace-princess cards? You have to be kidding. There is only one real princess! Each ace should be given a tasteful caricature of Britain's beautiful Diana, Princess of Wales, complete with her blonde hair and those soulful eyes as big as saucers (no aces wild jokes, please). No, I am not a devout member of Princess Diana's fan club. I am still actually a mite piqued that she didn't come out and say, "Hello," or at least wave, when we walked past her Kensington Palace a year ago last fall. Oh, sure, I realize she was probably busy doing "princess things," or whatever it is that a princess does. I'm no historian, but the lovely Princess Diana must certainly be the brightest star to have illuminated that whole royal facade for centuries.

Back to our deck of cards. We still have the joker to deal with – a male card usually portrayed as a court jester. The joker isn't used in all card games. Maybe we could get by with letting that one remain a male card. We still haven't given an assignment to
Prince Charles....


With much of my life behind me
I look back now and I see
So many plans unfinished, with
Much missed opportunity.

The wasted time, the days, the years
That brought me no real rewards –
Hours watching television and,
Much worse yet, just playing cards.

In most types of activities –
Almost anything I do -
If I keep my eyes wide open,
I can learn a thing or two,

But playing cards makes few demands
On a lazy human mind.
The brain can just relax and leave
All thoughts of progress behind.

Most anyone can "talk the talk,"
Even the loud and obscene:
"If you'd just played your goddam Ace,
Then led back the friggin' Queen ...."

"I haven't held a decent hand
They just don't deal me a thing!"
"All I had was the Ten and Left He
had the Right and King."

"Stop peeking at my cards or I
Will quit. For just once play fair!"
"To change my luck I will get up
And walk right around my chair."

Yes, I have spent a lot of time
That's brought me no great rewards,
But my one regret's all the time
That I've wasted playing cards.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


With each fall comes another Halloween. A time of cold evenings, “frost on the pumpkin” and “fodder in the shock.” We don’t see many fields of shocked corn anymore. And seldom see a lot of giant pumpkins growing in farmers’ fields. Or small “pie-pumpkins” growing in gardens. But, come Halloween,” we will see plenty of jack-o’-lanterns, both real and artificial, decorating homes and yards.

As darkness falls, groups of children will be out and about, busy with their trick-or-treating. I grew up in a rural area, and if there was such an activity back then, I never heard of it. We did hear of the tricks perpetrated by some of the members of the age group we now refer to as “teenagers.” And of some daring late night stunts pulled by a few of the more adventuresome adults.

A dozen years ago I was invited to join two grandsons and their parents in a Halloween parade in Dubuque. Yes, I put on a mask and walked with the rest of the ghosts, witches and goblins. I’ve forgotten many of the details, but not the evening. We had a great time. We started at Jackson Park and paraded down Main, and eventually wound up down by the Town Clock Plaza. I was amazed at the costumes. Some were simple, but others represented much imagination and a good deal of hard work. It was a great evening. Wonderful to be a part of such a large group of people who were all happy and having a good time.

This time of year, many people who drive Highway 18, just north of Patch Grove, enjoy a nifty Halloween display near the River Ridge School, at the junction with County Highway P. “Scarecrow Ridge” is a project of the third-grade students there, and consists of a score of colorful figures, all dressed up in their raggedy Halloween best.

I’m told that each fall the students of one of Pete Drone’s High School Ag classes drive a row of steel fence stakes to support the scarecrows. And Langmeier Lumber generously furnishes material for crossbars. Then the third-graders (with some help from their parents) create the scarecrows, dressing them in discarded clothing they’ve brought from home.

On a windy day the jolly, straw-stuffed characters almost appear to be waving at passers-by. After three years, we natives still enjoy the sight. Quite a number of strangers driving by, slow down to get a better look, and more than a few pull off and stop. It is not uncommon to see folks getting out their cameras and taking pictures of Scarecrow Ridge.


One more year gone by, one
More Halloween evening,
With frost on the pumpkin,
Witches riding on brooms.

An evening of darkness,
Of spooks, ghosts, and goblins.
Skeletons, grim and white
Climbing out of their tombs.

This will be a big night
For young trick-or-treaters,
In large and in small groups
They will take to the streets.

My young friends will be there
In various costumes
Some with colorful masks,
Some as ghosts in white sheets

They'll have such a good time
That I may just join them.
You could see me out there
Before the evening's done.

I, too, may wind up with
A sack full of candy.
Why should only the young
Ones have all of the fun?

I think I'll go this year
Disguised as an old man.
I'll put on a face that's
Marked and lined by the years,

I'll be the one whose mask
Wears a weak, faint, forced smile-
A clown's face that mirrors
Cares and worries and fears.

Tonight, the role I play
Will leave no one guessing,
I'll be easy to read
As a well-written page

I'll not appear wealthy,
Tonight I'll be wearing
Cheap, patched, shabby clothing
Weathered and worn by age.

As the years come and go,
We must move on with them,
Always paying our fare-
The costly toll of time.

I'll go trick-or-treating
Disguised as an old man.
This year's costume and mask
Will not cost me a dime.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


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.

--Emil Schmit

Sunday, September 21, 2008


During the Great Depression, it was common for unemployed people to “move on,” traveling westward, as they searched for something better.

I remember a number of drifters – people “down on their luck” – walking through the countryside and stopping at farms, offering to do several day’s work in exchange for food and permission to sleep in the barn hayloft. And then, as there were no permanent jobs available, they were ready to move on.

Some traveled by rail, finding various ways to ride the freight trains without paying. In towns along the railroad, they often went to homes and offered to split firewood or do various other chores in exchange for a warm meal or two.

A number of these fellows managed to pick up quite an extensive informal education along the way. They kept their eyes open and remembered everything. Listening to tales of their experiences was usually quite interesting to those of us who had never traveled far from our homes.

Some of the vagabonds, not finding success on the Gold Coast of California, or anywhere else in the Far West, worked their way back across the country. They had wondrous tales to tell about working in wheat fields so large that there was “wheat in every direction and as far as the eyes could see.” Others had worked in salmon canneries or as stevedores who loaded ocean-going ships. There were men who said they had milked cows all day long in huge California dairies. I recall one older fellow who told of shearing sheep, day after weary day, in Wyoming. And a few had actually prospected – looked for gold ore – unsuccessfully, in the rugged western mountains.


“Windy” Jackson was a drifter
Who once visited our town.
As a talker, he could
Just go on and on.

He’d converse with almost any
Person who had time to talk.
He stayed with us for three
Weeks and then was gone.

“Lefty” James once listened to old
Windy for an hour, then said.
“There can’t be much you ain’t
Seen under the sun.

“You seem to have all the answers
But I still ain’t heard you tell
Where you’ve gone to school and
What great deeds you’ve done.”

Windy said, “In a small country
School I learned to read and write.
From there on it was the
Tough school of hard knocks.

I’ve milked lots of California
Cows and threshed Dakota wheat
And I’ve punched my share of
Factory time clocks.

“I’ve won no Olympic medals,
But have a few special skills –
At spitting tobacco-juice,
I can’t be beat.

“If there were some competition,
I’d be the long-distance champ.
If need be, I could spit
Clean across this street.

I’m so accurate that I can
Hit a bull’s eye, slick and clean.
Even as a wing-shot,
I’m better than fair.

“Should some unlucky mud dauber
Wasp come flying past this bench
I’ll blast that poor sucker
Right out of the air.

“No matter what I am doing,
I try my dead-level best
I’ve no need to hang my
Head or feel ashamed.

“I ain’t held no public office
So if our great country gets
Into a mess there’s no
Way I can be blamed.

“I’ve met lots of pretty women
In all my travels, but I’ve
Never wooed and wed a
Woman of my own.

“Many years ago some wise man
Kind of summed it up this way:
’He who travels fastest
Must move on alone.’

Like a rolling stone, I gather
No moss or money or fame,
I’ve no wish to become
President or king.

I just keep moving on, trying
To learn everything I can
Traveling and talking
Seem to be my thing.”

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Early daylight began knifing its way in around the tattered edges of the shade covering a small bedroom’s east window. Eighty-six-year-old Ralph McIntire awoke and started collecting his thoughts. He was fully aware that just dragging his ancient body out of bed would bring on new aches and pains. But, for him, each new day was still a blessing. Life was for the living, and not moving around was something best reserved for the dead. So he gritted his teeth and got on with it.

Oh, on rare occasions Ralph still enjoyed a few precious moments reminiscent of the best of times. He also endured brief occasions that rivaled the worst of times. But most of his experiences remained about as average and mediocre as an old man living a plain, run-of-the-mill life can expect. He’d decided long ago that good times and bad times more or less resemble a pair of twins on a see-saw. They, too, usually just tend to balance out.

Ralph showered, shaved, and put on a clean blue chambray work shirt and his newest-looking pair of bib overalls, wound his ancient pocket watch, and stepped outside to meet the new day. The red sky in the east was a sure sign of rain. Wet weather is not always kind to people with arthritic joints, but a nice gentle rain would be welcomed by farmers and gardeners. Again, he decided things could always be worse.

Ralph’s old Chevy pickup was a far cry from the best of trucks. It was certainly not a vehicle that would turn the heads of the local young bucks or, for that matter, any females. A two-wheel drive job, powered by a well-used old straight-six engine, it delivered no thundering burst of power. It had no shiny, large-diameter chrome exhaust stacks protruding up vertically through the floor of its pickup box as did some of the new diesel-powered monsters that roared by.

Various areas of the old rig’s fenders and doors told the story of having valiantly fought, and lost, a battle with rust and now only gaping holes remained. But the old “bucket of bolts” was paid for. And it always started and got him where he wanted to go. And gassing it up was doubtless a lot less painful than filling the tanks of many modern larger, faster, more powerful fuel-guzzling models.

Ralph climbed in, started up, drove downtown and parked as near as possible to Red’s Corner Cafe. “Red’s” was not the greatest of breakfast joints. But quality, quantity, and price-wise it was decidedly not the worst. Entering, he found an empty chair at a large table where seven of his cronies were already enjoying their first cup of coffee. These silver-haired retirees didn’t make up the best-educated and most-intellectual group in the world, but they all spoke the same local language. And if a fellow ever really needed a favor, there’s a good chance any one of them would be willing to help out. Oh, a certain amount of whining, complaining, and bellyaching might be expected at first, but eventually the request for help would be granted.

“Red,” herself, came out of the kitchen to take Ralph’s order. She’d owned and operated the place for years. In fact, when she bought the little eatery, her natural hair color was a reddish-auburn. On that particular morning, Ralph thought her new coppery-red hair tone was maybe not the best dye job in the world, but definitely an improvement. The day before, the gray was expanding both ways from the part in her hair, gaining on and threatening to overtake all of the remaining artificial titian-red.

Ralph ate his breakfast while listening to the conversation of his buddies. He was well aware that hard-fried eggs, bacon, and greasy hash brown potatoes were not generally considered the healthiest of items for a breakfast, but he’d been enjoying them for as long as he could remember. And he had outlived a lot of conscientious dieters and more than a few health experts. Maybe he’d somehow developed some kind of immunity or resistance to LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

The breakfast discussion proved to be fairly flimsy in content and even less interesting than usual. Older men tend to repeat themselves, so Ralph had pretty much heard it all before. The devout optimists remained positive and hopeful, while the confirmed pessimists continued to complain and predict gloom and doom. The Democrats prided themselves on being far-sighted liberals and the Republicans refused to see anything other than the tried and true conservative side of things.

Their breakfasts finished, the discussion group broke up and the diners started to leave, some to begin the usual trivial goings-on of their average day and others, to their customary day of inactivity. It didn’t take much to satisfy some of those old codgers and keep them occupied.

Ralph climbed into his pickup truck and drove out to the Eternal Rest Cemetery to inspect the monument he’d recently purchased for his burial plot. The new granite stone was small but adequate, with his name and year of birth tastefully engraved. Eventually someone would sandblast in the date of his departure. Throughout his lifetime he had never been much of a man for “show.”

His was not the greatest of gravesites, being located in one of the least prestigious areas of the commercial burial ground. The salesperson had tried to sell him a costlier location in an area that offered beautiful shade trees and a
better view. But Ralph failed to see the advantage. He felt confident he would rest as peacefully here as he would anywhere.

Several of his friends had already chosen cremation as “the way to go,” saying it was the only way to “beat the system.” “Why stick all of that money into the ground?” they would ask. Their funeral ceremonies would be cut to the bare minimum, with their ashes spread over a favorite lake, river, or wooded area. But Ralph preferred to stick with the traditional.

Alone in the quiet cemetery, thoughts and memories of his life came and went. His had not been the greatest of lives, but certainly not the worst. An
un-skilled worker, his efforts had been menial, but employment was steady. He’d acquired no fortune, but managed to save up a tidy nest egg and qualify for a small pension. With Social Security, he would most likely be able to live out the final years of his life in reasonable comfort.

Ralph recalled his ex-wife and what was definitely not the most blissful of marriages. But it could have been worse. At least Rosa had remained with him until their six children finished high school. She said she wanted more out of life. Perhaps she just wanted a different man.

Ralph had never been proud of their split-up, and frequently recalled those age-old words of wisdom: “It takes two to make a marriage, and two to make a divorce.” But, for some unknown reason, he never felt even the slightest twinge
of guilt over their failed union. Both his heart and his conscience continually assured him that he had always done his part.

Their kids had done well. Thinking about them filled his heart with pride. Oh, sure, they all may have made a few mistakes along the way, but Ralph always thought making mistakes is a necessary part of the education that’s required for any youngster to develop and graduate into a real full-grown adult. None of their six ever wound up in prison or went into politics. Eventually they all got their feet on the ground and became solid citizens; loving, caring people who worked hard and made a good honest living for themselves and their families.

Ralph’s thoughts turned again to the future. He knew that before long his time would come to leave the land of the living. His body would rest here beneath the sod. He had paid for Perpetual Care, so was reasonably sure that soon after his passing he would be “grassed over” and the new green sod would always be neatly mowed. Perhaps the children or grandchildren would bring an occasional flower or maybe even plant a rose bush on each side of his small monument.

As for his spirit’s final destination, well, that was another story, an entirely different tale with a completely unpredictable ending. He could only hope and pray that a loving, forgiving Lord might take his hand and lead him to a home that was at least fairly comfortable, and that he would not be condemned for all time to that worst of places. Ralph believed that, at this stage, the die had already been cast, and it was too late now for making any major changes. This was one gamble he felt ready to take. He was confident that, in death as in life, things would, as do twins on a teeter-totter, continue to kind of balance out.

Monday, September 1, 2008


As youngsters we were all taught to tell the truth. And all about the beauty and necessity of complete honesty. Little children were told that their nose would grow with each lie, just as did that of Pinocchio. If we wanted to eventually go to heaven and see Jesus, then we had better never tell a lie. And there was little Georgie Washington who could not, and would never, lie about chopping down that precious little cherry tree. In church we heard sermons about “truth versus
falsehood,” driven home with expressions like: And the truth shall set you free!

I remember a high school class discussion in which our teacher compared the ease and simplicity of telling a lie to the multitude of difficulties that arise from the act. How untruthfulness usually leads to a multitude of complications that make it impossible to keep the story straight: Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive!

And then, somewhere along the way, we all grew up and viewed the world as it really was. We looked around and found untruthfulness almost everywhere. Unscrupulous horse traders seemed to know thousands of secrets for temporarily doctoring up unsound horses and tranquilizing the mean and unmanageable ones. At least long enough for those early scam artists to make their deals and get out of the territory. Traveling barn painters could make a 5-gallon pail of “brand-name” paint last all week by thinning it with kerosene. Door-to-door salesmen traveled the country roads peddling marvelous new inventions that no homeowner or housekeeper could get along without. Some specialized in sure-cure remedies for just about anything that could ail a family, or their horses, dogs, cats, or other livestock.

And then there was the political world. To our great surprise, we learned that even some of our great leaders and politicians were not above an occasional white lie. Some of our past political conventions and campaign speeches, if scrutinized, almost have to be categorized as comic fiction. One prominent lady, I think it was Clare Boothe Luce, got a lot of publicity and more than modicum of criticism for writing about the creativity and artistic beauty of a “well told lie.” We probably reached low ebb when some of our national leaders went on record regarding testimony before Congress. They seemed to feel that it was perfectly legal and honorable for people representing a presidential administration to deliberately lie to and mislead our U.S. Congress in regard to a blatant breach of our nation’s foreign policy.

Then, suddenly, a soft, silent, comforting blanket of truth spread across the land. Someone came up with the weird new idea that a President of the United States should tell nothing but the truth to the people, the courts, and the Congress. Unheard of, but wonderful! Suddenly Washington D.C. became our Nation’s Confessional. Numerous great (?) leaders and politicians couldn’t wait to get in on the act. With a bit of help and nudging and prodding from Larry Flynt, they began admitting to extra-marital affairs and sexual peccadilloes from as many as 20 years previous. Suddenly Flynt, of Hustler magazine, was the unofficial leader of a whole new monogamy and morality sort of thing, practically a spiritual movement. No longer could Larry be considered merely a despised pornographer, but an indispensable national treasure, a patron saint of truth-in-sex, almost.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to the new trend toward veracity. I have nothing against the truth…even on the national governmental level…or this current, unprecedented trend toward complete honesty.


I’m mostly truthful, but tell a
Few white fibs from time to time.
I don’t recall if I’ve ever
Told a falsehood all in rhyme.

But, with paper and pen, I could
Write up quite a “song and dance,”
But that would be foolish, the first
Liar just ain’t got a chance.

I’d like to boast about my past
And how great I used to be,
But who’d believe? Seems too many
Folks all know my history.

As a hunter, I’ve failed to bag
Much large and small game and stuff,
I don’t boast of big fish I’ve caught,
‘Cause my arms ain’t long enough.

I could tell of jackpots I’ve won,
For some, such tall tales are fine.
Casino friends know better, though;
They’ve all heard me gripe and whine.

I could describe my dancing skill,
Way back in my youthful past,
But folks tell me I move just like
My left leg is in a cast.

Lies don’t sit well with lots of folks;
Some are quick to take offense.
Then they want to argue and fight,
Lying makes no real good sense.

Guess I’ll stick to the real truth, but
That has one drawback, I fear,
It’s bound to put the kibosh on
My political career.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Time is our most precious possession – invisible, intangible, unpredictable, fleeting time. Though fragile and flimsy, it is the material of which our lives are woven. Each of us is issued a lifetime supply, but with no definite promises or guarantees.

My first acquaintance with this most important ingredient of life came by way of a mantel clock in the kitchen of my childhood home on the farm. The sturdy, dependable timepiece loudly ticked away each second and signaled every passing hour. From its dial, I learned to “tell time,” and where the “big hand” and the “little hand” had to be for mealtimes and for bedtime. And later, which positions they held when it was time to go to school.

My first personal timepiece was a Mickey Mouse pocket watch – a gift from Santa Claus. Colorful and attractive, it had a smiling Mickey pointing to the proper minute and hour with his cute little white-gloved hands. An old-timer admired the watch and commented, “That’s quite a stem-winder.” When asked what “stem-winder” meant, he explained, “When I was your age, a lot of old fellows still carried watches that had to be wound with a key, much like your mother’s kitchen clock.”

Back then, some gentlemen owned dainty gold “Sunday” pocket watches, each with a gold chain and a front cover that snapped shut to protect the fragile glass crystal. But the most popular pocket timepiece was the “dollar watch,” the working man’s favorite. Purchased for that price (or slightly more or less), these could usually be counted on to do a good job for a year or two. To replace such a watch was usually cheaper than taking it to a jeweler for cleaning or repair. Often a “sick” dollar watch could be restored to proper running condition by prying off the back cover and administering a tiny bit of kerosene to the more important bearing areas.

Some fellows invested in more expensive pocket watches with “jeweled movements,” some with as many as seventeen or twenty-one tiny bearings made of precious gems. Compared to metal bearings, the smooth, long-lasting “jewels” operated with less friction, usually resulting in much greater accuracy. Railroad workers required watches that were extremely accurate. The label “railroad watch,” was almost a guarantee of accuracy and reliability. Many of the very best watch movements came from Switzerland.

Pocket watches were “tethered” to the owner’s clothing with a small chain, strap, or string. Braided leather watch straps could be purchased for a reasonable price, but many working men and farmers settled for a length of used shoe or boot lace. Tied in a loop, this could easily be “lassoed” to the metal ring on the watch’s stem and onto a belt loop. This tether prevented the timepiece from being lost, also from falling out of the pocket and being broken by falling on a hard floor.

In those days gone by, every pair of men’s pants had a special “watch pocket” that was just the right size to hold a pocket watch. Belted dress pants usually had that pocket on the right front, near the belt line. Work pants often had the watch pocket located just inside the top of the right front pocket.
Overalls usually had a number of handy “bib pockets,” including a narrow pencil pocket and a watch pocket. Many had a special “buttonhole” near the top edge of the bib, solely for the purpose of accommodating a watch chain or tether.

Working men were slow to accept the “newfangled wristwatch.” At first these were considered uncomfortable, in the way, and too fragile to stand up to rough conditions. Eventually a few workers tried them, mostly as “Sunday watches” for “dress up” purposes. And they quickly began to catch on.

The first wristwatches had leather watchbands with metal buckles. Soon various flexible metal expansion and non-expansion bands appeared and became popular. For awhile, a cheap nylon band with a metal buckle was available. Unlike the others, it was made in one piece and when it became dirty, could be easily removed, washed clean. To replace it, one simply slipped the plain end of the band down between the body of the watch and one of the spring pins, across the back of the watch, and back up between the watch body and the other pin. If rough use caused one of the pins to fail, the watch did not fall off the wrist because the remaining spring-pin kept it fastened to the one-piece watchband.

As time went by, we saw the evolution of the “shock proof” watch, with works that had built-in cushioning to prevent breakage of jewels and other fragile parts if accidentally dropped or given a severe jar or jolt.

Another important development was the “waterproof watch.” This made the wristwatch all the more practical and desirable. Anyone accidentally immersing his wristwatch in a liquid did not immediately destroy the delicate instrument. If the wearer washed his or her hands and arms or took a shower without remembering to remove the timepiece, no harm was done.

Many mechanically-minded people marveled at the invention of the “self winding” watch. Someone came up with the novel idea that a tiny weight, or pendulum, inside the watch case would be activated by the movement of the wearer’s arm, and the weight’s motion could be harnessed to wind the watch’s mainspring. As the mechanism was perfected, wearers no longer had to remember to wind their wristwatches. As could be expected, some pessimists grumbled, “I hope the day never comes when I am too lazy to wind my own watch.”

For many years, electricity has been used to power clocks, and later, watches. One of the greatest developments in timekeeping was the invention and perfection of the battery-powered quartz movement. This made possible clocks and watches that require no oscillating balance wheels. Timed by a quartz crystal that vibrates when activated by electrical energy furnished by a tiny battery, they are capable of delivering uniform, almost perfect timekeeping. The only moving parts are the gears that move the hands, with the digital versions having no moving parts whatsoever.

A more recent development in timepiece technology marries the quartz movement to the older self-winding mechanism. Instead of winding a mainspring, the pendulum, or weight, drives a mini-generator that sends electrical power to a tiny conducer, for storage and use by the quartz movement. This eliminates forever the inconvenience of battery failure and replacement.

I understand that some timepieces can now boast perfect accuracy. By receiving a constant signal from a distant satellite, they automatically keep set to the perfect time. That sort of technology is a bit too deep for me. I come from an age when, if the kitchen clock stopped because someone forgot to wind it, and no one had a watch, we called the local telephone central office. The operator there was always ready and willing to tell us the correct time. In those
pre-television days, many families did not have a radio and, if they did not have a telephone, about all they could do was re-set a stopped clock by guess, and go along with that until someone came by with a watch that was running and told the correct time.

Starting with my Mickey Mouse pocket watch, I graduated to a number of the cheap dollar watches. At one point my father gave me an old pocket watch he’d purchased from a door-to-door peddler for five dollars. It had a fine jeweled movement and kept excellent time. The first time I took it to our local jeweler for repairs, he smiled. His records showed that, down through the years, he had cleaned and repaired it a number of times, and for a number of different owners who all lived in the surrounding area. I carried the watch to work for eleven years. When its case eventually began to wear thin, I decided to graduate to a wristwatch.

Since that time I’ve gone through a number of these, mostly cheap work watches and several fairly expensive ones. Currently I own three, all of which were gifts. One is a fairly cheap “no-name” battery-powered quartz watch. Another is an expensive quartz. The third is a counterfeit self-winding Rolex, purchased in China “for a pittance.” A beautiful watch with performance that does not match its impressive appearance – or even come close.

Now, long-retired, I have little real need for a watch or, for that matter, an alarm clock. With few appointments or deadlines to meet, I rarely have to know the exact time of day, yet find myself constantly checking it out. So often that, if I forget to put on my watch before I leave home, I feel almost naked. And embarrassed at the frequency with which I examine my bare, watch-less wrist.

At eighty-four years of age, fleeting time still remains a most precious possession. I feel extremely fortunate that, for me, it is still ticking by, and that I can still hear that reassuring “tick, tock, tick” of an old spring-powered clock.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Old Philo always appeared content with his life and the world around him. Although his 80-plus years must have dealt him the normal share of aches, pains, and misfortune, he never seemed to feel any need or obligation to burden others with his problems. And, as I listened to him talk, I appreciated the fact that I did not have to sort fact from fiction. He never boasted of all of the wonderful things he had accomplished in his life, or listed all of the even more wonderful things he could have done if only he had received a few good breaks along the way.

This older neighbor and I often sat and in the shade of a large maple tree. As we talked, he taught me a lot of the history of our area. Was I familiar with the Wyalusing State Park? He remembered when it was known as “Glen Park,” because all of that high woodland above the confluence of the Wisconsin River and the mighty Mississippi was once owned by Sheriff Glen. He told of a time when that property was the home of hundreds and hundreds of goats that had been shipped in by rail from Texas. The tough, wiry little animals slept in large open sheds at night, and then at sunup would move out, single file, to feed. Their primary purpose was to eat and thus destroy the tangled mass of wild brush and weeds that flourished among the thick stand of tall trees that covered those hills.

Philo talked of people who had lived in the area before my time. Once he mentioned a lady who had resided in the North Andover area, and wondered whether I had ever known her. I told him I had only heard of her but knew the location of a farm she once owned. And that some of the older neighbors referred to the place by one name, while others used another, depending on whether they were best acquainted with her first or with her second husband.

The old man smiled. “When she was a young girl she lived in our neighborhood. One evening my sister and I were going to drive to Cassville to attend a dance, and she asked to ride along. When I pulled my horse and buggy up to her parents’ house she came out carrying a neatly-wrapped package, but when we asked, she wouldn’t tell us what it contained. Later in the evening she informed us that she would not be leaving with us. She and the young man of her choice eloped that night. My sister and I decided that her small package must have held a homemade wedding dress.”

When asked what his boyhood life was like he answered, “Well, my friends and I were all farm boys, so there was almost always work to do. But we still found time to play. In the summer we played baseball and swam in the Grant River. In the winter there was sleigh riding and skating. Most farm boys built at least one homemade sled. There was no TV or radio. Unlike today’s young fellows, we didn’t dream of the day when we would be getting a driver’s license and a car. But each of us looked forward to the time when he would have his own shiny black buggy and at least one fancy high-stepping horse.

“My best friend’s family owned the next farm down the road. Tommy and I were together whenever we could find the time. Sometimes in the summer we would do up our Sunday morning chores early and walk up to the Pleasant Ridge community. We would attend church with the folks there, and could always count on one of the families to invite us to their home for the noon meal. Then after dinner, we would play baseball.”

My old neighbor’s memory was amazing. After all of those years he could still remember the names of all the Grimes lads, and the Greenes, and the Shepards, and which ones could really hit or field a ball or throw a sharp-breaking curve.

He went on to tell me the history of Pleasant Ridge. “Back in 1848 a white Southern plantation owner purchased some farm land west of Lancaster, the county seat here in Grant County, Wisconsin. He divided the property and sold parcels to some of his slaves. Later they were joined by others who had been freed or had escaped from their owners in various parts of the South. “That’s in the ‘Slabtown’ area,“ he continued, “but I don’t think you’ll find that name on many maps. There isn’t really a town there anymore. The official name for that area is ‘Flora Fountain.’

“Right from the start, the Pleasant Ridge folks got along well with their neighbors. In fact, in many cases the local white farmers helped the newcomers get their small farming operations set up and started. Back then almost everyone was poor and worked hard, and farmers exchanged work and helped each other out whenever they could. At harvest time, at least a dozen men or more were required to keep the threshing machine busy and get the job done. A number of adjoining farms would make up a ‘threshing ring’ or ‘threshing run.’ When the job was finished on one farm, the big steam engine and grain separator would move on to the next, until everyone’s grain was threshed. When people are busy and working that hard, the color of a man’s skin is unimportant.

“There were some mighty good cooks back then,” he continued, with a smile. “Dick Lewis, one of the farmers up on Pleasant Ridge, had a small farm and his threshing job didn’t take long, but somehow things always got timed so the crew was there for a noon meal. The fellow who operated the big threshing equipment was an excellent manager, in that respect. Everyone on the crew looked forward to that meal because Dick’s wife Ollie was the best cook on the whole threshing ring.”

In one of our conversations, Philo told me that The United Brethren Methodist Church was built in 1870 and it served not only the 20 families who then made up the Pleasant Ridge community, but also quite a number of their white neighbors. Also that the Pleasant Ridge School was built about the same time, and was generally believed to be the first integrated public school in the entire United States. And that the community continued to grow until the early nineteen hundreds, when it reached a population of more than 200 ex-slaves and their descendants.

On another occasion, Philo recalled, “The children and young people got along just fine. In grade school, there were close friendships regardless of color. As the youngsters grew older, the friendships remained but there was almost no consorting romantically or anything like that. Such behavior was frowned on by all of the older folks. And two sad events, the only real racial trouble that ever occurred there, continually reminded everyone of potential problems that could arise.

“In 1883, one of the men from ‘The Ridge’ was accused of getting a white girl pregnant. He was arrested, and four members of the girl’s family set out to spring him from jail and lynch him. They wound up shooting and killing him. They were apprehended, tried, and three were found guilty of fourth-degree manslaughter, the other, of assault with intent to murder.

“Then, almost 40 years later, Jack Green warned a white Lancaster man three times to stay away from his young daughter. Ignoring Green’s words, the man continued seeing the girl and he took her for one ride too many. When they returned, the angry father was waiting with a loaded gun. He not only terminated the fellow, but shot his car several times for good measure. At his trial, an all-white jury considered the ‘extenuating circumstances,’ determined it was a ‘justifiable homicide,’ and declared Jack innocent.”

With a hint of sadness, Philo recalled, “At the time of World War I, good jobs in the big cities began to beckon, and the Pleasant Ridge folks started to drift away. At first, only a few moved out, but then more and more, until the only remaining member of the community was Charlie Green. He loved the beautiful, quiet farming country and refused to trade it for the bustling city life chosen by all of his friends and relatives. Charlie died in 1977, the last person to be interred in the Pleasant Ridge Cemetery.”

Time continues to move on, and just as the community of Pleasant Ridge faded away into the past, so did my old neighbor and good friend, Philo. I miss him and our conversations. And as I near my middle-eighties, I can only hope that my memory-generated tales prove to be half as interesting and informative as were his

Sunday, August 10, 2008


This article was written in January of 1999.

As usual, “Lige” Craig opened the day’s discussion: “What do you guys think about those folks up in Minnesota electing a professional wrestler as their governor? Do you think one of those grunt and groan guys can really run a state?”

“Sprout” Brussel, the historian of the group, scratched his head. “Well, a number of successful leaders, even presidents, built their political careers on military, sports, or acting experience. I don’t know whether or not our first president, George Washington, was much of an athlete, but books say he once threw a dollar clean across the Potomac River.”

“And a lot of later presidents broke that record by throwing billions of dollars across the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans,” commented Phillip “Pill” Dougherty, the designated pessimist of the group.

“Some books say good old Honest Abe Lincoln was every bit as well known for his wrestling skill as he was for his story telling and debating ability when he was young. And he turned out to be about as good a president as we’re ever going to get,” Sprout commented.

“President Reagan was said to be a fairly good athlete,” Ed Austin added. “And he announced the Cub’s games on the radio. He was real convincing as George Gipp in the Knute Rockne movie. When Rockne asked them to, the Notre Dame team went right out there and ‘won one for the Gipper.’”

“They say Ex-President Gerald Ford played a lot of college football,” remarked Ed’s brother Jake.

“Some of his worst critics always maintained that he’d played a few too many games without wearing his helmet,” Pill grumbled.

“I don’t know about that, but I once saw him on TV showing some interviewers a big scar he’d received on the gridiron when he made solid contact with a great football player named Jay Berwanger,” Jake replied.

“Maybe he just got the scar from bumping into something. Ford was always known to be kind of clumsy,” was Pill’s observation.

Grandpa Lowther rubbed his chin. “I recall a Dubuque boy named Jay Berwanger. He played a lot of football. Wouldn’t that be something, to always be able to say you’d put a scar on a president? Think of that: A US president carrying around your own personal scar that you’d put on him!”

Sprout grinned. “But getting back to this Jesse “The Body” Ventura guy, he just might have the ideal background for politics. He has military, athletic, and show business experience to spare.”

“Well, pro wrestling alone could fit a man for politics,” Lige opined. “We’ve all watched those pre-match interviews where the contestants boast about what they are going to do to their opponents when they get them in the ring. And what they are going to do for the sport once they’ve won the title. A lot of bluff and brag and quite a few ‘half-truths, at best.’ Pretty much the same as your average run-of-the-mill political campaign speech.”

“I remember the matches out at the old Melody Mill,” said Grandpa. “Ken Fenelon was a great wrestler and a big name in the sport at one time. And he was a Dubuque boy, too.”

“I went to see the pro matches in a high school gymnasium on a Sunday afternoon once,” Jake recalled. “Some of those wrestlers were so mean and bitter at each other that they entered from opposite ends of the gym. But they must have gotten their differences settled in the ring. I noticed that when they left, they all rode back to Des Moines in the same van.”

“In the political arena, that’s generally referred to as ‘eating out of the same trough,’” Sprout explained.

“Politics makes strange bedfellows,” Pill reasoned.


I’m a tried-and-true wrestling fan –
And have been for many years.
I’ve studied all the holds and moves,
Seen the action, sweat, and tears,

I’ve watched the pre-match interviews
With bluff and bluster to spare
Like so many campaign speeches –
Made up mostly of hot air.

I’ve heard those giants grunt and groan
And pull and tug and strain;
I’ve seen many a grimace, when
They could scarcely stand the pain.

I’ve seen them raised, then body-slammed
On hard gymnasium floors.
Some got beat up with folding chairs
And thrown right through hardwood doors.

I watched a “Texas Death Match” once –
Most came through without a scar –
Later those mortal enemies
All rode home in the same car.

Some say a wrestler must depend
Quite a bit on acting skill,
‘Cause he must please us gullible
Paying folks who foot the bill.

But Jesse has me wondering
All about this wrestling game.
I once halfway believed, but now
It will never be the same:

I’ll wonder, as each wrestler goes
Through his bag of dirty tricks:
Is he only preparing for
A career in politics?

Sunday, August 3, 2008


At times, it is easy to get “all wrapped up in ourselves.” Especially as we grow older. We begin to worry about all of the things that are wrong with us, as well as with the world around us.

Too often we old geezers arise in the morning and begin checking ourselves out for any possible new aches and pains or other ailments. Instead of looking for the sunrise we turn on the TV and watch the world news, where we too often find more things that steer our thoughts toward the negative.

Get a group of us together, and you’ll likely get the whole load. About the only way for an individual to get attention early at such a meeting is to be the one who is in the poorest health. Or the one who takes the most and costliest medication. Or the one who has had the most complicated and/or life-threatening surgery. Lacking any of these qualifications, one can only hope to find willing listeners by being able to inform the gathering of a good universal home remedy for a common ailment.

After all of the prevalent medical conditions have been addressed, and only then, the talk may turn to the financial. Any rise in taxes makes a popular subject. Any increase in rent, or the costs of electricity, water, sewer, or garbage pickup are popular subjects. Any cheerfulness arising from a boost in Social Security payments is usually doused quickly by talk of an increase in Medicare costs. Without going into a lot of detail, some will admit that the low interest rates currently earned by their retirement investments have not exactly brightened up their Golden Years.

And nothing gets the attention of the entire assembly more quickly than does a hint from a trouble making prankster, indicating that there is a rumor making the rounds that there will soon be a sizable increase in the cost of TV cable service.


I watched the old man
As he trudged down the road
With his thin shoulders stooped,
His aged back badly bowed.

The clothes on his back,
Shabby and far from new,
And the soles of his cheap
Shoes were badly worn through.

I wondered about
Just what places he’d been,
What joys has he’d known, and
What great sights had he seen.

What problems faced him
As he traveled life’s trail?
Was he hounded by fears
That he would always fail?

Was he nagged by thoughts,
Doubting he’d ever cope?
Did each sunrise fail to
Give him new rays of hope?

What had prevented
Him from gaining great wealth?
Had he been hampered by
A lifetime of poor health?

Was it just bad luck
That, day after long day,
Good breaks eluded him,
And never came his way?

Did he ever know
The love of a good spouse,
Or the comforting sound
Of children ‘round the house?

His face left no doubt
How the old man did feel.
He looked hungry, so I
Staked him to a warm meal.

He thanked me as we
Ate and talked for awhile.
Finally, I saw at
Least the hint of a smile.

The clouds parted. The
Sun brightened my own day.
Suddenly my own aches
And pains melted away.

My own troubles seemed
Trivial, now, and small,
Almost as if I had
No real problems at all.

I counted up all
The blessings sent my way,
Said a short prayer of thanks
For the gifts of that day.

We never know quite
What the future will bring,
But that one day made me feel
Wealthy as any king.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Lige Craig waited until all his friends had been served their first cup of coffee, then gave his favorite foil, Grandpa Lowther a sly wink and said, “Grandpa, we’ve often discussed all the changes we’ve seen in our time. Tell me, is there any special change that has surprised or impressed you? Something we haven’t mentioned before?”

As usual, the old fellow had a ready answer. “Yes, I’d have to say I find it hard to understand today’s propensity for constant sound and lack of silence. When we were young if we saw someone walking alone on a country lane we just assumed that person was enjoying the solitude, the quiet sounds of nature, and being alone with his or her thoughts. But today you can bet your bibs that solitary stroller is wearing headphones and is listening to music or a self-improvement speech recorded on a CD. Or else talking on a cell phone.

“Some folks don’t seem happy unless they are listening to something. Events such as celebrity court trials will cause them to glue themselves to the TV all day and half of the night, when usually 15 or 20 minutes of national and world news will cover everything of importance that can happen in 24 hours. These viewer-listeners will hear the same news and the same commercials repeated time and again. You can’t help but wonder when they find time to do any thinking of their own.

“In the old days, most of the noise wasn’t as loud as it is now. Any rooster worth his salt would make himself heard each morning, but it wasn’t a disagreeable sound. He would crow and crow until the sun, ready or not, would come up over the horizon. And until his owner would get up out of bed and start a new day’s work.
“When a farmer walked into his barn in the morning, it was not uncommon for a few of the cows to greet him with a “Moo,” and let him know they were ready to be relieved of their milk and fed some hay. Horses, too, would often neigh or nicker a “Good Morning.” A farmer with strong hands could sit down to a good milk cow and make the bottom of an empty milk pail ring out a merry tune with those first squirts of milk. And the farm cats, smelling the fresh milk, would mew pleasantly to let their master know they were ready to be fed.

“Horse-drawn farm machines were not nearly as noisy as those motorized monsters used today. A blacksmith’s hammer and anvil would often ring out a merry tune. And the loose-plank floors of some bridges would rumble out a pleasant song when crossed by a Model T Ford.

“A lot of conditions back then weren’t as pleasant or convenient as things are now. But I’m sure a lot of folks these days are missing out on a lot of precious silence and on a lot of the soft, enjoyable, musical notes of nature.”

Time moves swiftly when you’re busy,
I rush to get each job done.
I like having my work finished
By the setting of the sun.

Sunset sometimes puts on a show
With a splash of colors grand
As daylight slips past the mountains,
And darkness drifts ‘cross the land

My good wife fixes our supper,
Plain and simple country fare.
We always have plenty good food
With a little bit to spare.

Then we sit on the old log bench
Right outside our cabin door.
Content and wondering how could
Wealthy folks have any more?

From our valley’s small lake we can
Hear the cry of a sad loon
And we watch a wispy dark cloud
Drift across the rising moon.

Soon we enjoy the lament of
One lonely, sad whip-poor-will,
Then an old great horned owl’s hooting
From ‘way up on the east hill.

We hear the howl of a gray wolf
Up by the high mountain pass,
And the sounds of coyotes hunting
In the south prairie’s tall grass.

While we thrill to nature’s concert,
The evening ends all too soon,
Twilight surrenders to darkness
As thick, dark clouds hide the moon.

Our valley road’s soon deserted,
Unlit by any car’s light,
A sign our neighbors must all be
Safely at home for the night.

One more day, for us, has ended
As so many have before,
Content here in our small cabin,
We hope there’ll be many more.

We count up the many blessings the
Good Lord has sent our way,
Then it’s “early to bed” because
Tomorrow’s another day.

Saturday, July 19, 2008


This article was written in September of 1997
We old-timers like to boast about all the changes we've seen. And in my seventy-plus years there have been a-plenty. From gravel roads and Model T Fords we've gone to interstate highways and gas-guzzling monsters. Then back to compact and sub-compact cars, and now the large, bulky models are beginning to sell again. We've seen gasoline and diesel tractors, small at first and now the $100,000-plus models, replace horses on the farms. Large threshing machines powered by giant wood-burning steam powered engines were replaced by 40 and 60 inch-wide tractor-drawn combines, which were in time replaced by self-propelled models that cost almost the price of a small farm. The airplane has gone from being just a novelty to the major means of long distance travel. And humans have traveled in space, lived in space, and walked around on the moon.

Television and the Internet can now keep us informed about everything and anything that tweaks our interest. They can tell us about almost anything that happens in the universe, as soon as it happens, sometimes even before. Some change has been for the good, some not. Improvements and discoveries in the health care field insure us of a lot longer life expectancy, provided we are not wasted at a young age in a drive-by shooting.

People have changed. They are no longer as dependent on each other, on family, friends, or on neighborhood. Many values have changed. A few of us still remember a well-respected doctor over at the county seat who was sentenced to a long stretch in the state penitentiary for performing an abortion.

Some changes don't require a century or a millennium. Several years ago, when a new casino boat opened its doors (or whatever it is that a boat opens to admit passengers), a commonly heard remark was, "These corn fed girls sure don't do much for those cocktail waitress costumes." After time for a more thorough study, the general consensus among local self-proclaimed experts was that there was indeed nothing wrong with the dimensions of the lovely young ladies, but that the problem was with the packaging. New Vegas-type costumes soon remedied the problem. Now the girls in the showroom have made another change. They wear black T-shirts and have snappy red suspenders to support their short skirts. They smile and move nimbly around the crowded tables, doing a great job, and are apparently comfortable in the new tops. And perhaps even a bit less susceptible to the common cold.

So the years still go by and time moves on. And brings with it changes. Some good, some bad. Some happy, some sad. But how dull life would be without change!


A good old friend once grinned at me;
He said, "As near as I can see,
We old-timers can get too set in our ways.
It's time we come out of our shell
Forget our old-school Show-and-Tell,
And upgrade our thinking to new, modern days."

Whether or not my friend was right,
There's no need to argue or fight,
And I half-assume he maybe was correct.
This world is no longer the same,
We find new rules for every game,
And quite often we don't know what to expect.

We stood and watched as our world changed,
Familiar things got rearranged;
Sometimes now we don't quite know which way to turn.
Should we hang on to what we know,
Or turn our backs and just let go,
Keep our values or just let old bridges burn?

We were no Einstein types in school,
But no one called either a fool,
Teachers shook our hands when finally we were through,
But today's standards we can't meet,
Truths we were taught are obsolete;
Things we learned "for Gospel fact" now just ain't true.

Today's world beckons, "Come and see
This New Age of technology.
Those ancient horse-and-buggy things all have to go!
Follow my new siren cry,
Forget those old times long-gone-by!"
But when it comes to faith and morals..., I don't know.