Monday, December 31, 2012

Wilma Helgeland, 1921 - 2012

"One never knows for sure, does one?"

At the 50th Reunion of the Class of '62 with Serena Sheilds,
Chuck Hendrickson, and Lee Leidal
She was famous for that line, her standard answer each and every time someone came to her class and asked whether there would be a quiz on that day.  Grammatically correct, the phrase just lifted out of her mouth and into the air.  There may or may not have been a quiz planned, but she would never give indication, just like she never got rattled about anything.

I don't recall ever seeing her get angry or upset in any way.  Each day when I walked into the classroom I expected to see the same wry smile and feel a congenial welcome to her class.  She  treated everyone the same, and the class was always under her control because students respected her, and learned from her.

I learned from her that some phrases were grammatically correct not because they "sounded right" but because there were rules that were to be followed.  We diagrammed sentences, like it or not, and learned such annoying things as case, gender, number agreement, and other basics.  She taught us about funny phrases like split infinitives, improper antecedents, dangling participles, parallel agreement, and the misuse of a preposition to end a sentence.

We learned when to use like or as, well or good, and many of those lessons are still in my head.  Maybe she didn't teach us everything I've mentioned here, but she laid a groundwork that stayed with me over the years when I was studying and teaching English, later when I was writing papers here and there, and finally with this blog.  One never knows how long those lessons might stay with a person, does one?

For all her technical expertise most of us will remember her most of all for her compassion and humanity.

Perhaps because she was at heart a friend as much as our teacher her life impacted us all greatly.  In the last couple of months since my Dad has been in the nursing home I've had occasion to drop in to see her, though not as often as I'd like or should have.  One day in October I came to see Dad and we wheeled into the guest lunchroom (for lack of a better name) and found she was there with Chuck and Ann, who were spending the week.

They invited us to join them at their table, and we did. Dad was not too far along recovering from an accident and was still pretty well dosed up with morphine so I don't know that he was fully capable of being a part of the conversation.  Yet Wilma went out of her way to pull him in from time to time with a "Remember that, Curtis?"  or similar questions that saw to it that he would be included.

She was like that.  She noticed others and spoke to their needs, and Lord knows we eighth-graders had much that needed handling.  It's an age when we might begin rebelling, among other ways by wearing long hair, or a ducktail in those days.  I discovered butch wax applied to my hair allowed it to be slicked back on the side, much to my liking.  In her own gentle way she reminded me there is more to my head than what I can see in a mirror by telling me it looked sharp, but take care of it back here as well - where she touched my hair with her fingers in the back of my head.  She cared.

As we prepared for high school some of us were asked to write a short piece about what we saw ahead.  Once I had finished mine and turned it in she very delicately walked me through some things that maybe should remain  unsaid, each time by asking, "Are you sure you want to say this?  Maybe we could take it out."  Because she asked it the way she did, I was indeed sure that I did not want to say that.  And my piece was certainly improved.

This woman may have been the only teacher who brought up race in my twelve years of school in Northwood, at least in a thoughtful manner.  She once shared an experience while teaching in Manly.  One of her students, a pretty girl she said, was black, although I'm sure she referred to her in the language of the time as colored.  For Wilma I can't imagine that it made any difference what color she was, until the day she happened to see the girl in the bathroom with soap suds all over her face.  "Wouldn't I be pretty if I were white," the girl had asked?

There wasn't much else that needed to be said about the incident, since just by the way she told the story Wilma had already spoken to the issue of race and belonging in our society, the difficulty of being "different", and the sadness of it all.

She had a way of doing that, of saying the right thing.  She understood us all, a paradox of sorts when viewed against her favorite saying, because she was the one who did know for sure, wasn't she?

Most people have a teacher somewhere who influenced their lives.  She was one of them.  We were blessed to know her.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Ready for the Prom?

My brother and I have been revisiting old pictures and gathering stories from our Dad and have  put together a couple different slideshows to tell the family story.  If the kids ever have any interest it will be there for them.

This is a photo I never saw or knew about until sometime last week.  Those who know my Dad will recognize him in his foxy straw hat and double-breasted suit, smoking the heater, and my mother is sitting in the passenger seat.  In a real convenience, the car door clearly swings wide open.  Dad's brother Kermit is standing to the right and Mom's sister Idena is on the left.

Just for a little geographic identification, we're sure the photo was taken at what Mom called "the Old Bisbee Place", where her family lived when they returned from North Dakota.  There's a story about the property in Iowa and in North Dakota, but it goes beyond the bounds of this post. Anyway, the road that you see over Kermit's left shoulder we are pretty certain is the Iowa/Minnesota State Line.

The Bisbee place is about 5 miles East of the Deer Creek Valley Lutheran Church.  Dad's maternal grandparents had a farm on the Minnesota side just across the road from Bisbee's, and he grew up on a Minnesota farm about 3 miles west of Bisbee's.  Dad met Mom at the DCV Church, worked at the Deer Creek creamery for a while after they married, and farmed just west of Deer Creek, mid-point between Deer Creek and the Minnesota farm that my great grandfather homesteaded in 1870.  When I was born in 1944 our family of five lived on "the Old Radloff Place" mid-point between my two grandfathers.  And all these points were on the State Line.

The history we've been collecting and the mapping we have done have rung my bell following my post recently about the transitions from child to parent, from those days to these.  Both sides of my family were friends back then, as this picture shows, because they lived so close together, attended the same church or school, dated each other's siblings, and so on.  The likelihood of that happening today is slim or none, with farms being sized at 700 acres and up, schools becoming county-wide and social life taking on a different turn as well.

There were 16 siblings between those two families, creating many fond memories for me at an average of four children per sibling.  I have flashbacks of a sort now that I have grandchildren in two families and they scream with excitement when the last family arrives for a family event.

Dad still has pretty good recollection on most of these things but I have yet to get the story behind this picture.  It almost looks like they're going to the Prom, although Mom and Dad had to be in their early 20s on this shot.  And she and Idena are not wearing flowers either.

Here's a real aside in this story, recalled because of that lack of a corsage . . .  For all those dances we attended in high school, when it was imperative that you buy a corsage for your date, every guy was concerned about the inappropriate placement of the corsage, because you didn't want to crush the corsage on a slow dance, but you wanted to dance close.  Remember? So the "arm corsage" became an option.

One classmate, whose name shall not be shared here, needed to buy a corsage with a Gardenia flower, perhaps because it was her favorite flower, I don't really recall.  When he picked it up at the nursery he was very taken aback because the corsage was so - o - o - o - o long!  He just knew it would cover her entire arm, and he was flustered as to whether he should give it to her.  Being the fine fellow that he was he could not refuse to pay for it, so there he was, corsage in hand - his hand - and all akilter over the right thing to do.

He wound up giving it to her and indeed it covered her arm, looking as much like a shield as a corsage.  But it was OK because that relationship came to an end, and life moved on.  It's just kind of hard to think that my Mom and Dad, or yours, may have had any of the same awkward situations.  They were just always seemingly above those things, or so we'd like to think.

Monday, December 24, 2012

looking back . . .

At some point or another in your life you likely had an impact on people and found them coming back to you to say thank you at a later date.  This might be true for you professionally or personally and either way may very likely have impacted you as it did this fellow, Bob Welsh.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Comin' home for Christmas

At this time 50 years ago, give or take a week or so, those who had gone off to college or perhaps enlisted in the armed forces or took a job far from home were coming home for Christmas for the first time.

It was a chance to catch up with classmates and friends, renew a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship, share some experiences with family, or just collect your thoughts.  Most likely it included a Christmas gathering with extended family, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  It was the only world we knew, and perhaps naively thought it would never change.

But it did.

As our parents are disappearing we are becoming the family host for our own offspring, and the caretaker for those parents remaining.  The change is drastic but has hardly been noticed as it occurs over a 50-year span.  Lonna lost both of her parents by 1981, sadly more noticeable to her at that age than for most of us who have the element of time to ameliorate the transition.

Even today, the loss of a parent with whom you spend much time can leave a hole in your world, may make you feel aimless for a period as you re-orient your life.  The impact may in fact be greater today because you have been the caretaker and clearly are an adult.

The flashback to 1962 was very real this week when the grandson returned home from college and attended my favorite granddaughter's Christmas concert.  I saw myself returning home, full of knowledge now and so worldly, I thought.  I didn't have a chance to see any performances of my younger siblings back then, and am sure I didn't see any at NKHS either because I would have remembered being in that new building.

I have only one clear memory of that long-ago vacation, and that was a card party, held New Year's eve as best I recall.  It's  a recollection that only occurs with some silent reflection and perhaps an outside prompt somewhere along the line.  Just another example of something happening today that rings the inner bell of memories, many to be treasured, some not.

(My favorite granddaughter, by the way, is also my ONLY granddaughter.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

suffer the little children

The sad news from Newtown, CT, is mind-boggling.  I struggle to recall any comparable incident from our youth, at least in the schools.  If it happened, it was an isolated incident, nowhere near a school zone, and carried out as a recurring event in multiple locations.

We were safe because assault weapons didn't exist.  Perhaps the greatest predator was polio, and when the Salk vaccine was introduced I recall lining up for a shot in Mason City.  My mother was like any other concerned parent who wanted to seize the opportunity to protect her children.

The nation responded to Salk's discovery.  And now I wonder if the nation will successfully respond to the slate of gun violence over the past 15 years.  As a gun owner, I have no problem with eliminating the type of weapons used in Newtown, or the 30-round clips that were used.

As a former teacher/administrator I find it ludicrous that some individuals including a congressman in Minnesota, are advocating for teachers and administrators having weapons available to them.  The fellow from Minnesota has claimed that knowing the school has weapons inside would keep the perpetrator away.

Really?  Let's see, the fellow in Newtown who obviously was not of the right mind would be rational enough to pick a different school?  Or the kids who shot up Columbine?  In their case the greater likelihood is that they would seek out the teacher they knew to be carrying, get the jump and eliminate him before carrying out their carnage elsewhere.

There are no simple solutions, and let's be clear that none of the massacres from Oak Creek, Aurora, Columbine, Portland, or now Newtown are acceptable, but at last we have found our lowest common denominator in Newtown, helpless 6-year-olds who may lift us to take action.

A solution was found for Polio, and a solution, complex as it may be with multiple parts, can be put together to reduce or hopefully eliminate this guy violence.  I hope.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

a memory of Barbara Morris

Normally the email sent to the blog email is forwarded to me but we hit a glitch in the system and I discovered this morning that no email has been forwarded since last June.  No matter, since for the most part the email was mostly spam, or email I had already received - except for one, from a Jane Sapperfield:

Hi, I'm Barbara's little sister, Jane, now Sappenfield. I would like to be a member of your website. Please feel free to publish my email as well as I would enjoy hearing from Barbara's classmates if any of you have memories of her you'd like to share with me. I was only seven when she died and have no clear memories of her, just an overwhelming feeling that I loved her very much and that her death hit me very hard as she was like my second mom. My daughter, Lorra, discovered your website and recognized her aunt right away. She was amazed at how much I look like her. Anyway, hoping to hear from you soon and looking forward to connecting with Barbara's friends.

For those of you who are able to do so, please email me and I will forward your request to her.  I'm concerned about publishing her email in an online forum.  I am sure she will be looking forward to hearing from you.  I have asked her to send more information about herself and will post that as it is available.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

the storm of '51

We had a foot or better of snow today, a mostly gentle salting from the sky that is wet enough to stick on your clothing, and fluffy enough to pile up on branches.  The street has finally been plowed so we could get out if we had to, but sometimes it's better to stay home.

I'm reminded of the storm of '51.  Or whatever year it was, and the exact year doesn't really make as much difference as the fact that it was a bruiser.  It blew in during the school day and my Grandpa Holstad came to pick us up at school, which is the only time I ever remember that he did so, and likely the reason that the storm sticks in my mind.

Perhaps it is my imagination but I believe we were stuck at home on the farm for a few days once we got there, and probably lost phone and electricity for at least part of the time.  If we lost the electricity, Dad would have to hook up the vacuum milking system to a petcock on the John Deere, or milk them all by hand.  It was slower to use the tractor but much faster than the hand-milk.

In those days we certainly lacked the capabilities we see today - generators for running your milking system, major snow plows, and more important radar and technology that enables some type of indication you need to hunker down.  Major league games may be delayed for 2 hours because of predictable weather coming in.  Science is good.

Seems to be letting up now so I may as well go out and shovel - for the 3rd time today.  Merrilee, Bonny, and Stan, eat your hearts out.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Class of '57 News

Cynthia Vold Forde has put together a website for the Class of '57 including photos from their 50th reunion 5 years ago and recent communications from class members.  The class held its 55th in September, on the night the new football field at NKHS held its grand opening and first ever 8-man football game.

Cynthia was on-site commemorating the occasion.

To view their site, click this link.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Good Times with Old Memories!

Did you have a Radio Flyer too?  The audio tells the whole story.