Friday, August 31, 2012

a visit to Birchwood

A couple weeks ago I had my first visit with Dan Sorenson, the author of Snapshots of an Iowa Farm Boy.  I may have mentioned I expected to be there for 10 or 15 minutes, but Dan keeps time by not watching the clock, so it was two hours later that I left.  After viewing his collection of restored Case Tractors.
This is only one wall of his office showing some of his models, nearly all Case tractors, but it tells much about him, and the "tree" bottom left shows his commitment to genealogy, home, and family.  On another wall I saw the needlepoint referenced in an earlier post, "What's Time to a Pig?"

He pointed me to a chair to sit in that I later discovered had been his grandfather's.  "When we moved it here from St Paul we set it down and it fell apart!"  Since reassembled, he also recovered it, and I discovered it was a pretty comfortable sit, a kind of a recliner because the seat would slide forward, the back slide down, with support from a lumbar and head rest.

Our conversation started with a quick recognition of the book that brought me to see him, and he quickly turned to his first book, You Thought Like a Man.  He pulled it off a shelf and apologized for having only two copies left, and now it's out of print.  The title, he said, came from an experience he had at age 10.

He was pulling a disc behind a tractor and came to a swampy mudhole that needed to be crossed, but he knew he could not drive right through it.  So he unhooked the disc, hooked a log chain to it and the other end to his tractor, drove the tractor to the other side, then pulled the disc through separately.  When he got home he said his dad complimented him by saying, "You thought like a man."

"I was always proud of that," he said.  "What higher compliment could I ever receive?  And I've never forgotten it."

Dan has an incredible memory.  I remarked on the detail in his book, and  how many of my classmates tell me they don't recall some of the things described in this blog.  That prompted him to speak of the ladies aid church suppers he described in his book.  He remembers them like they happened yesterday, how the older women lined up along the walls of the church basement waiting for someone to take them home, the men out having their smoke, the orderliness that comes from years of practice.  And I think he expects the rest of us would have the same memory.

Their home is a log cabin in the small village of Edgewater on Big Chetac Lake, a vacation area that hosts a couple resorts, the Chit Chat bar and grill, the Edgewater Store, and a handful of homes.  Dan and Shirley live on the abandoned railroad right of way for the Blueberry Line, opened in 1893 and discontinued in use somewhere around 2000.  The railroad ran from Rice Lake to Menomonie and is featured in this Youtube.

Because it's a railway, the Sorenson 10-acre property is long and narrow, 300 feet wide and I forget how long, but 10 acres at 300 feet wide tells you it's a matter of miles.  As Dan walked me out to my car he was eager to show me a copse of trees where the local depot once stood, the framework for the old windmill the fan for which was sold and carried away some time ago, and the bed of the rail line itself, which he faithfully mows.  "You can feel the railroad ties as you bounce along on your mower."

The couple is quite comfortable in retirement after years as teacher/counselor and baseball coach in his case. He clearly loved the coaching, and lays claim to having had two of his players reach the big leagues.  Though he didn't mention the name, he did say that one of them will probably make it to the Hall of Fame.  "But I had some losers, too," he laughed.  "A murderer and a few other troublemakers.  We still get the Pioneer Press (the St Paul paper) up here, and for years Shirley and I would go through the police report to check on our former students."

I understood that.  Lonna still goes through that section of the local paper to check on her former students from her Behavior Disorder class.  The closest I ever got to recognition in this way was going through a red light in Mason City, duly reported in the Globe-Gazette and gifted to me by Mildred Hendrickson. A memorable detail, I guess. And those who climbed the water tower back then never got caught and thus listed.  I guess.

Perhaps this weekend, Labor Day, I'll have a chance to visit with Dan again.  He's a dandy.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Man on the Moon

You may or may not recall hearing Kennedy's commitment to putting a man on the moon and you may or may not have believed that it was anything more than science fiction for that to happen, but it did.  This week that man, the first, Neal Armstrong, died at age 82.

The whole week prior was exciting.  I still have copies of the Waterloo Courier published each day of the trip, topped off with the moment when Armstrong took that first step.  Or "hop" might be a better word.  It was kind of amazing that a key talking point in the days that followed was that they didn't really "walk", they "hopped."  One of those silly things that stick in your head.

As the years have gone by the actual event has gotten later and later in the day in my memory, because my whole focus that evening was keeping my two oldest daughters, then ages 4 and 2, awake to see it.  I was sure it happened after midnight.  Now I'm surprised to learn that Armstrong actually stepped down at about 10 PM CDT, far earlier than my recollection.

We sat glued to the TV in the basement family room of Lonna's childhood home in Lake Mills.  The girls were tired and I wanted so badly for them to be able to see it because it was obviously an historic moment.  But they were tired from the trip to Lake Mills and all the excitement that goes along with being at grandpa and grandma's and if you're only 2, you don't quite get the impact.

I recall talking talking, it's exciting look at the moon in the sky, look, a man's going to walk there, would you like to go to the moon, that's the moon - and the only reaction was bobbing, dozing heads.  It seemed like hours from the time the door of the lunar module opened until the step was actually made, but I was committed to keeping those two girls awake, and I did.  One on each knee, bumping, shaking gently, talking, talking.

I confirm they indeed saw it.  But they don't remember a dang thing.

Still, Armstrong was a heroic individual.  Stoic, gallant, blessed.  Without astronauts we don't have many heroes like that anymore.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Farm Boy's Wife

In my visit with the Farm Boy we were joined by his wife Shirley, and she added much to the conversation.  She grew up near the Twin Cities, midway between Red Wing, MN, and Ellsworth, WI, where she attended high school.

(As an aside, you need to know that Ellsworth is the home of the Ellsworth Creamery, where the very finest cheese curds in the world are produced.  If you're ever in the area about 45 miles southeast of the Twin Cities some morning, stop at the creamery to buy the curds that are produced that day.  They will still be warm, and will squeak like crazy if you eat them as you continue on your way.  They're so good they're the official cheese curd of the Minnesota Twins!)

Returning to the story - Dan and Shirley met at Luther College.  She sang in the Nordic Choir and became a music teacher in the Twin Cities while Dan was a counselor in the same St Paul School system.  And when I mentioned my grandson is now having his final audition for the Nordic Choir, she grabbed pen and pencil and asked his name.

"Bryan," I said.  "And what's his last name," she asked.  I told her, not really understanding why she wanted to know, until it dawned on me that she would look his name up on the program when they went to Nordic Fest this year.  Luther Blue is apparently thicker than water.

Shirley knows of Lowell Gangstad, but since he was an upperclassman.he probably would not know her.  Or maybe he would . . .

As she has done throughout her career, Shirley continues to give voice and piano lessons, and I suspect the Birchwood, WI, area is blessed by her ability.  She laughed with pride as she told about some of her students, like the 60-year-old man who wanted voice lessons, the 65-year-old man who took piano lessons from her, and her very favorite - a 95-year-old woman who took piano lessons.

She was very proud of her oldest student, a woman who had considerable music knowledge and experience singing, but had never taken piano lessons as a youngster for lack of piano and money to buy the lessons.  When the woman mentioned she would have loved to have done so, Shirley offered - several times.  But the woman turned her down, until another lady mentioned to Shirley that the woman just didn't want anyone to know she was doing it, thinking some may make fun of her.

So Shirley suggested they do it quietly, privately, without telling anyone, and immediately the woman agreed. "She was excellent.  I knew she knew music, and sure enough by the third lesson she was playing music."  The lessons continued for a year until the woman was no longer able.  She lived to age 99 and Shirley sang at her funeral.

Shirley is a real gift to Birchwood, and I look forward to visiting with her and Dan in the near future.  Some people just bring a lot to the table.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Childhood Diseases

I clearly recall the commitment of my parents, especially my mother, to my getting fully vaccinated against a variety of diseases. Today's concern for Shingles amongst seniors should not be surprising since it's caused by the same virus to generate chicken pox, the source of the faint scar between my eyebrows.  So the virus is still in my body.

Seniors don't object to lining up for this new vaccine, having been indoctrinated by their parents as to the necessity of doing so.  Get in line and git 'er done.

Jonas Salk was quite the hero in 1952 when he developed the vaccine used against Polio.  The stories of the iron lung, the youngsters our age who walked on crutches or staggered along, or even the death of the infected caused great concern among parents.  Perhaps you, too, lined up in Mason City for the original injected dosage followed a couple years later by the oral vaccine.

That is the disease that rings the bell most loudly for our age, but our parents most likely could list many others that swept across the country wreaking havoc during their youth.  Although our parents would not likely have first-hand experience from the pandemic flu that killed close to a million people in 1917-18 they certainly heard about it from their own parents - if those parents survived.

Whole tribes of Native Americans disappeared when confronted with measles or other viruses for which they had not developed any natural immunity - or awareness.

It's a simple methodology: you learn from those affected and then carry the message forward.  All our mothers, all our parents, were attuned to the variety of scourges that could affect us and chose to protect us.  Many bore injection scars on the arm reflecting their having received the shot in a primitive process, but no one bore any shame from that scar.

We heard it from the parents, passed it on to our children albeit with less passion than we had heard, I suppose, and they to their own children, even less passionately.  You do not fear what you do not know/have not experienced directly.  And thus we are finding more and more parents putting their children and others at risk by opting out from the vaccination requirements.  They are mostly white women, well educated, Master's degree or higher, heavily oriented towards homeschooling and organic living.

As if it's a communist plot or something to listen to the medical community as to the risks and impact.  They fear autism.  A fear based on . . .  perhaps an actress espousing her beliefs on an afternoon TV show?  Think risk/reward: a few cases of autism or an entire generation wiped out by disease.  What do you choose?

We've been there.  Now it's up to us to sound the alarms.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Education Center at the Wall

Yesterday a 2013 Calendar arrived, sent to me by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund.  It's a chilling reminder of Project McNamara and many sacrifices.

Certainly it was a solicitation for a donation, so I went to their website to do just that, and discovered this video, available on YouTube, that shows what they are planning to put into their Education Center.  It looks to me like an extraordinary project.  Check it out, and if you'd like to make a donation, go to and click on their "Donate" button.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Founders Day 2012

This isn't much of a post except to put out a heads-up to anybody who has information about this year's Founders Day.  You can see the "agenda" for the Class of '55 Reunion on our Founders Day page, but to date we have seen absolutely nothing online promoting the day, and nothing on the Northwood City/Chamber websites.  We'd be happy to post something if you can help.  Email and we'll put it up.

What's Time to a Pig?

The Iowa Farm Boy is of the age of 'CCO, the iconic Twin Cities radio station that is as blue collar Norwegian as you can get, and no doubt you have personally listened to it at one time or another.  Dan Sorenson can cite the names of all the announcers and what time of the day they were on the air, just like most folks of his age.

One Christmas back in the 70s we were gathered with Lonna's family in Lake Mills and a storm of some sort was brewing.  Her older brother, who then was living in Golden Valley, had some concern for being able to travel  home in that weather, and determined the best way to get weather news was by pulling in a scratchy, barely audible report from 830-WCCO, 125 miles away.

Personally I thought it was a bit bizarre since the weather information all came from the same place and could have been more easily understood by listening to a station in Mason City or Albert Lea, but you get the point about the sanctity of 'CCO.

In his book, the Farm Boy tells about the WCCO announcer who one morning shared the story that became legend in Dan's family and at work.  Seems a farmer had a pig that became fond of apples, and soon cleaned up everything under the tree.  Then he took to running and jumping at the low-hanging apples, reached all he could, and further modified his strategy to climb the tree part-way with his front legs until that supply was also diminished.

Being a helpful fellow and knowing the nutritional value of the apples, the farmer began helping out by grabbing the pig around the waist (if there is such a thing) to hold him up to the tree branches.  A neighbor happened to see this, so made it a point to go to the mailbox one day as the farmer headed out to get his mail,  to get the story behind it.

"Well, the pig likes apples and I thought I'd help him out," was the reply.

"But doesn't that take a lot of time?"

The farmer thought for a moment and said, "But what's time to a pig?"

This is a very condensed version of the story on pp. 171-172 of the book, but you get the point.  I laughed with Dan about the story on my recent visit as we recounted the numerous times that the home office or district office would send out information requests that were basically a waste of time, and I have seen but did not photograph, unfortunately, the needlepoint that Dan's daughter did in honor of this story.  It hangs on the wall in his office, iconic in its own right.

When it hung on the wall of his counselor's office he was often asked to explain it, and puzzled people would turn and walk out after hearing it.  Then, sooner or later, they would pop back into his office, point at the needlepoint, nod their head, and walk away chuckling.  They understood.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Norwegian Lutheran Iowa Farm Boy

Long ago I mentioned I would stop to see the Norwegian Lutheran Iowa Farm Boy the next time I went to Birchwood, and this week I got the job done.  Dan Sorenson, author of Snapshots of an Iowa Farm Boy, was home when I knocked on his door.

Well, truth is it was his wife Shirley who answered the door, since Dan was at a doctor appointment, but they welcomed me back later when he had returned home, and like true Norwegians, didn't have the heart to kick me out once I got there.  My thought was to spend perhaps 15 or 20 minutes and then come back another time, but soon enough I had been there for an hour, thought it was probably time to take my leave, but was told in very friendly tones that there was nothing on their schedule so I should stay.

I did.  For another hour, finishing with a trip to the shed where Dan stores his six or so antique Case tractors.  "I have one more to get," he said, "and then I will have one each of every tractor my dad ever owned."

You'll notice the model tractor sitting on the desk in the photo (click to enlarge it), just above his right hand.  The one with the red wheels.  It's a model of a steel-wheeled tractor that Dan drove as a youngster, I believe the first he drove.  "When you took it on a gravel road, it was awfully rough to ride on," he said.

As our conversation turned to the several model tractors lining his office, some of them visible here, I mentioned the Allis-Chalmers WD-45 that we owned, and it was then that Dan knew I, too, was a farm boy, since I referenced the model number, as a true tractor man would do.  He almost jumped out of his chair to tell me that.

There is much to share with you from those two hours, but it's going to be another day.  After being gone for a week, I need to get back into the writing mood.  Who knows when...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

concise handbook of linguistics

A daughter browsing a garage sale found a book entitled Concise Handbook of Linguistics.  She couldn't think of a better person to own the book than me so now it's mine.  Probably says something about the kind of people she doesn't pal around with.

The book was published in 1967 and doesn't look as if it's had a lot of use - understandably.  But it brought back some memories of the semester I was taking a class in linguistics at State College of Iowa, particularly when I flipped open the book to the page describing "morpheme."

I never really knew what that meant but it got kicked around a lot by the instructor in that course.  He was a different type of fellow but LOVED the English language, morphemes, and the schwa.  More on the schwa later.

He was all about teaching us how we make different sounds in different parts of our mouths, and how we've learned the sounds based on our home geography - where we grew up.  Like Worth County, as an example.  We all have this symbiotic relationship where language is concerned.

The book accommodates the learning process with diagrams of the "physical organs of speech" (tongue, nasal cavity, etc.) and a "front view of the oral cavity."  Your mouth.

Further, it has a tic-tac-toe matrix to show which sounds are made at the front, middle, or rear of the mouth, in a grid showing the high, mid, and low portion of the mouth where specific vowels are formed.  Yep.

If you have never labored in the love of your language you now have an idea what this course was all about.  The weirdest days were the ones where he was trying to "map" language sounds directly to the speaker's hometown/section of the state.  (This was far more technical than knowing that the Iowans who came from south of Highway 30 would pick up an arn bar, or poosh a wheelbarrow, an observation frequently made by a friend from Oskaloosa.)

After explaining, among other things, where exactly a sound was made in the mouth, we would practice.  Out loud.  With the room door open.  Thirty classmates saying "eeeeeee" or "oooooooohh" in unison.  Repeatedly.  Then he would hear someone saying it a little bit differently, ask where they came from, mark it in his little diary, and move on to the next sound.

The schwa, mentioned above, was the tricky one.  Schwa is the name of the sound represented in phonetic writing as an upside-down "e."  According to my new book, it is the unstressed central vowel in English, often heard in the first syllable of words such as await, agog, arrive, in the medial position, as in enemy, or in the final syllable, as in sofa.

Having fun now, aren't we?  When we tied into schwa we tied into a horrible aural presentation.  Thirty people filling the air with a moan that just must have been amazing for anyone walking by.  Kind of like goats bleating softly.  The reason that, whenever we put on these displays, I always turned away from the door, just in case somebody who knew me might walk by.  God forbid they would see me twisting my mouth to make sounds, and twist we did.

We never got so far as to addressing accents (southern, nasal midwest) but I suppose the application would be practical.  For a couple years after we moved here to the Twin Cities area I would occasionally have people stop in conversation, tilt their heads, and ask, "You're from down south, aren't you?"

Well, for me, "down south" was the Quad Cities area, and apparently I had picked up the habit of talking about arn bars and pooshing wheelbarrows.  I was probably in denial, because there is clearly an accent in the language of my friends from that area.  Having a "musical" ear I am inclined to hear and replicate that accent, and being the faithful linguist that I am, I can understand the confusion on the part of those who inquired.

They probably didn't know about morphemes.  But that's OK, since according to my new old book, a definition of this term (morpheme) has been the subject of debate by linguists for more than twenty-five years.  Now plus fifty.  Can you imagine?  My old college prof would have been right in the middle of that debate.

Monday, August 13, 2012

an older photo

Nosing around local websites (City of Northwood, Chamber, etc.) uncovered this photo of the old high school and primary building.  There is no indication of the date of the photo but it is clearly an earlier version of the one most often seen.

The photos seem to have been taken from a similar location, the earlier one further to the right, and the later one displaying the Old Gym, which means the top one appears to be pre-1937 and the latter is post-1937, the year the gym was built and opened.  Perhaps the street lamp was already in position but not visible on the first photo, and note all the bushes along ground level at the base of the school in the later photo.

The two trees of the original have identical branching to the later version and the trunks have added some girth in time.

The first one looks pretty bare, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

a dastardly act

Four young locals were caught in the act of climbing the Northwood water tower last week, as reported in the Anchor.  Their penalty is probably enough to deter others from embarking on this dangerous event, once undertaken by some of our peers with no such penalty. Today you won't have Arnold Lien or Floyd Skellenger glaring at you on the way down so the cost is more than a loss of pride.  And no matter how old you are I can't imagine it's a good idea to get drunk and climb the water tower.

Read the story here . . .

Friday, August 10, 2012

what's your exposure?

One of the "best practices" of retirees is the protection of their identity for financial security, and many have turned to Lifelock or similar companies to provide that protection.  However, there may be a better alternative so long as you won't be applying for credit anytime soon.

The purpose of identity protection is to avoid someone else opening up credit accounts using your personal information, because you are liable for what they do, and extracting yourself from that mess is time-consuming and costly.  Nor do you want someone accessing your bank or credit card accounts without your knowledge, because they can literally steal you blind.

So the solution is to a) prevent anyone, including yourself, from opening any credit account and b) monitor those bank/credit card accounts regularly.  You can accomplish the former by contacting each of three consumer credit companies to freeze your account.  The cost is $20/person (depending on your state of residence), and continues in place until you have it removed.  It will cost a similar amount to have it removed, again depending on your state of residence, since your state will regulate the amount that can be charged.

The three companies are Equifax, Experian, and Transunion.  Just google "how to freeze your credit" and you will be directed to those sites.  You can also get more background information on the rationale and downside by clicking here.

For you and a spouse the cost will be around $40 for each company, or a total of $120.  The cost of Lifelock or similar protection is $120/year/person, and though though that protection is effective, it's an annual fee.  You just need to be sure you won't be applying for credit anytime soon because then you have to go through the rewind process.

The second half of your protection comes from the regular monitoring of your accounts, which is extraordinarily easy anymore with online banking.  If you check your account every week or two you can see if anything is fishy, and downloading regularly could be a part of that checking process.  Quicken is an excellent program for that purpose.

You may already know that a thief can use a computer to generate random numbers with extraordinary speed, connecting simultaneously with retailers and credit card companies until they have a "match" and then are able to charge on your account like they've found gold at the end of a rainbow.  Fortunately, if you catch it quickly because you watch the charges, you likely won't be held responsible, or if you have a card from a bank with outstanding monitoring systems, they will call you before you're even aware.

Lifelock, and to my knowledge any identity theft program, does not/cannot monitor your banking/credit accounts for you.  Their function is to guard against new credit accounts being set up, not to monitor the existing accounts, so even with a Lifelock program in place, you are still susceptible to having someone dip into your checking account.  And if you never balance your checkbook, well . . .

This may be a bit outside the norm of the blog, but it's an extension of the post a few days ago about the habits of retirees.  As a retiree you have presumably done all you can to collect your nest egg - and now you need to know how to retain it.  Do you?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

class of '57 reunion

Click on the Founders Day link at the right to get more information about the reunion scheduled for this September for the Class of '57.

Richard Holstad has prepared a video that highlights the music and memories for that class.  To watch that video, click this link . . .

More from Grade School

Here's another chance to grab a glass of wine, lean back, and laugh at yourself.  Marilyn Weidler sent another handful of photos, the "official school photos" taken each fall, including several of the same person taken over a period of years.  Rather than create a new album with a select group, they're now included in a grouping of 105 photos.  Get that glass of wine.  You can always restart the album. 

Click any photo to go to the online album and view a larger version.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

more banquet photos

Merrilee made it back to California and has forwarded a boatload of photos that have been added to the online albums.  Here is the updated album from the reunion banquet.  Note there are 110 photos included, so put it on pause, grab a glass of wine, slip off your shoes, sit back and relax.  You have time.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

you might remember this day

Sorry - couldn't resist.  Click on the picture for a larger view.

I don't know if anybody feels just this way on retirement, and labeling it Best Senior Moment may not always be appropriate.  The larger point may be that retirement provides a new outlook on living, on motivation, attitude, desire, interests, and other attributes that are important for living.

The freedom to do what you want when you want is the best part of it.  There's always something to do, unless you're just not looking, and it's nice to be able to say, "I guess I can do that tomorrow."

A neighbor retired several years ago, and I asked him one day how he was adapting.  He was a teacher, so he was accustomed to summers off, but it was still a transition for him.  Until one day he was painting a window on his garage and he said, "I suddenly realized - I'm retired - I don't HAVE to do this today.  So I put the brush into the can and just walked away."

In the last couple years before I retired from financial services I was putting on seminars at various offices.  Since retirement is a key focus of financial services the seminar was popular.  The title was "What's My Number?"  Attendees were folks in their 50's or later looking at retirement and trying to figure out how/when, or they were folks already retired.

The basis of the seminar was a book by that same name, a book that explored issues of retirement, and preparing to live well in retirement with that new outlook mentioned above.  I found several commonalities in the attendees, no matter where we did the presentation.
  • An adjustment period was common.  "He" sometimes got in the way in the kitchen, "they" needed to learn how to spend time together, and one or the other, mostly "he" would need to have his escape location, a Man Cave.  In all cases that adjustment was done amicably, and both parties had the ability to laugh about it.
  • Everyone was busy.  There was never a lack of things to do, and grandkids consumed a lot of time.
  • Every bit as much as they had experienced in their working years, retirees would use "To Do" lists regularly.  At first that caught me off-guard, thinking if you have plenty of time and no other demands for your time, why not just do things as the moment allowed?  Very likely it's just an old habit hard to break, because I do the very same thing myself today, trying to allocate time and events with preparation.
There were other interesting habits and practices but those three were the ones that hit the top of the list.  I suppose we all adapt in our own way, but I have yet to hear anybody say he/she regrets having made the move.  Life is good.  Except for those who failed to plan ahead.

Friday, August 3, 2012

One more "retiree"

It's not officially a "retirement" but it is a "slowing down" that put Robert Hall on the front page of the Anchor this week.  He's moved his auto business from Central Avenue to their home on Thrush Avenue, reducing his "drive" from 10 miles to a nice walk across the driveway to the other side of the yard.

Bob opened his shop downtown in 1973 and after 39 years made this big jump.  

The online format of the Anchor doesn't make it easy to download or copy their photos, at least for insertion here on the blog, so the scan at right is the best alternative.

To read the first part of the story on Page 1, click here.

To read the finish on Page 2, click here.

Personally I dread the thought of packing up to move, so even though there are places I might prefer to be, I plan to stay where I am for now.  And I can't imagine the process that Bob Hall had to go through when he made his move on that recent day.  I can imagine he did some cleaning out.  Congrats, Bob.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012