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Uncle Vincent’s Pastureland

Saturday, December 31st, 2016

Thoughts on the final day of 2016.
Remembering a North Dakota farm family.


(click to enlarge any photo)

Since 1934 an impressive cottonwood tree has stood watch over the former Busch farm between Berlin and Grand Rapids ND. I took the above photo, and wrote a story about the tree in 2005. The story is accessible here.

A few blocks to the west of the tree stands a piece of pastureland, which, 106 years after the prairies became a farm, has yet to see a plow. For reasons only my Uncle Vince knows, this pasture was a very important piece of ground to him, even though it was only a small part of the farm.

This was a pasture well known to Vince and Edithe’s parents and brothers and sisters, going back to the beginning of the farm in 1905; and known to any of their nephews and nieces who visited on occasion. We became familiar with “cowpaths” and the lane from pasture to the barn, and if old enough we could watch the cows being milked by hand, and even try our hand at milking. In a sense, the cows were part of physical life of the Busch place, the milk cows with names.

For most of its years it was pasture for a few milk cows. Here is a photo from the 1940s labeled Aunt “Edithe’s favorite milk cow.” Unfortunately, the cows name isn’t included; most certainly she had a name.

“Edithe’s favorite milk cow”, 1940s

My first vivid memory of the pasture is in the winter, sometime in the 1940s, watching what seemed to be gigantic white rabbits loping across snowdrifts. It wasn’t an illusion:

Uncle Vincent and Uncle Art with a productive hunt for rabbits, sometime in 1941-42.

Over the years, the rabbits disappeared, for some reason never explained to me.

As for the cows, we grandkids, who showed up from 1940 on, knew the drill: Twice a day, cows came home via the cowpath – force of habit, I guess – with a lead cow. Here’s an old slide from Nov. 1980 showing my Uncle and cousin Mary Kay. (double click to see the cows in the background, or a closer view of the cowpath)

Uncle Vince and Cousin Mary Kay (on a cowpath in the pasture, Nov. 1980)

In my growing up time, there were maybe 10-15 cows maximum, milked by hand twice a day, later usually by Edithe and Grandma Rosa. Kids were allowed to try milking, but it was hard work – the fun wore off very quickly. Cats hung around for a possible treat. Once in awhile a cow “kicked the bucket” partly full of milk, probably the origin of the saying about dying.

The cream separator initially was hand-powered. Cream and milk would be kept in cans, and kept cool in a water tank by the door of the barn. For years, Uncle Art kept the old separator; later he gave it to me; I think my sister has it now…”antiques” have their day…a nuisance, but yet a reminder of what once was.

I can remember the tedious job of hand-churning cream to make butter: the butter didn’t just magically appear. We kids didn’t have the patience, I’d guess. But once in awhile you could actually see the butter begin to appear.

Once in awhile we might be there when a truck came from LaMoure to pick up the milk and cream. In LaMoure was a small Land-o-Lakes Creamery which made things like butter and, perhaps, ice cream. At least once I can remember a visit to the creamery. Every time, however, we stopped at the Dairy Bar in the same building (photo below) for ice cream. Successive renditions of that Dairy Bar continued until very recently. I think it’s now closed.

LaMoure ND June 28, 2009. Edithe, Vincent and Dick Bernard at what used to be the Creamery and the Dairy Bar in LaMoure. We all appear to be tired. Must have been a busy day.

I can’t fix a date when the Busch’s stopped milking. It probably came sometime in the 1960s, before Grandpa died, and by then Grandma was in her late 70s. There quite likely was an extended period without cows in the pasture. Someone could correct me on this.

Beginning about 1980, Uncle Vincent began to graze a small herd of beef cattle in the pasture. This lasted until the bad winter of 1996-97, when snow conditions and his own advancing age made it impossible for Vincent to take care of the cattle. On occasion one or another of us would go with Vince to the pasture. The cattle were familiar with him; for strangers, particularly if there was a newborn calf nearby, extreme caution was advised. Mama’s cottoned no nonsense. Strangers were a threat.

After 1997, for reasons known only to Vince, this particular piece of pastureland lay unused, except he allowed a neighbor to cut and bail the hay for a fee.

Vincent in the pasture spring of 1987, photo by his sister, Edithe.

From 2006 on, Vince and Edithe lived in LaMoure, and the trips to the farm normally did not include the pastureland.

But in early October of 2012, just about a month or so before Aunt Edithe went into the Nursing Home in LaMoure, Uncle Vince felt a need to go out to that pasture one last time, and that we did, on a very breezy and chilly North Dakota fall afternoon. It would have been wiser to stay home, but Vincent was determined, and we went.

This particular day, Vince had his mind set on pieces of tin on an old feeding station out in the pasture, and we set about successfully taking off the roof, later to be used to cover a broken window or two on an old shed on the farmstead.

October 4, 2012

The farm has now been sold, and the young couple with three young children who now own the farmstead and have a contract to purchase the pasture in a given time period. When I was at the farm in early October, I saw the two calves who, by next summer, will bring farm life to the pasture, as the family is rebringing life to a rural North Dakota farmstead.

Two young calves outside the Busch barn, Oct. 6, 2016

Uncle Vince would be pleased, of that I’m certain.

As this year ends, and a new one begins, what do you remember about your growing up years when your life was being formed?

Busch barn, rural Berlin ND, May 24, 2015 at approximately 100 years old.

COMMENTS:

from Jon, Uncle Vince’s grand-nephew Jan. 3: Hi Dick..Hope you had a Merry Christmas.This is Jon Busch..Don’t know what you know about the pasture land..But in my few conversations with Uncle Vince with my dad alive the land where the pasture is has never been tilled for crops (native prairie). It was grazed by livestock many years ago. Also there is a native American burial ground at or near the farm..Not sure if nearby or on their property no idea if that would be the pasture? Or mounds? Elsewhere.. Thanks for all of the time you guys spent working on this stuff. Have a happy new year…Jon

Response to Jon from Dick: Over the years I’ve gotten to know a great deal about this particular piece of pastureland, primarily many visits with Vincent, which is a main reason I’ve endeavored to deal very carefully with it, particularly carving it out as a specific parcel of the property. It is a legacy of the family. It was very, very important to Vince, for some reason; more so than even the surrounding long-tilled land which was more valuable. Your Grandpa George, Vincent’s older brother, as you doubtless know, had a great affinity for this land as well.

The Indian mound(s?) of which you speak were a short distance north of the Busch property – to the north of what I call the Grand Rapids road. I do not know much about them, except they existed and (probably) weren’t respected by someone or other over the years. The Busch farm sits very near the western edge of the James River, and no doubt saw a great deal of Native American activity in pre-white settlement, which primarily came with the railroad about 1880 or so.

Over my life-time, now nearing 77 years, the size of the usable pasture land decreased as it is part of a watershed which, when combined with the natural consequence of wetter years, and drainage by farmers upstream, increased the permanent wetland. The gate to what we used to know as the south pasture has long been unusable and I think the south boundary of the property has been somewhat difficult to fence because of the water issue.

Thank you very much for your comment.

from Fred: This is an excellent, evocative and thoughtful study. It brought to life a different time, one with which I can identify — there were farmers in my family too. Very nicely done.

from Joe: I read and greatly enjoyed your essay about the pasture and your excellent 2005 story about the old cottonwood tree. Thanks for both.

from Gail: Good story. Even better, it’s true.

from Shirley: Another “so-very-interesting” piece! Thanks.

from David, whose Mom grew up on the then-adjoining farm: I still recall that great old barn.

from Leila: One of my relatives had an old barn near Forman that withstood all kinds of severe storms when others didn’t. He claimed that it was because air could move easily through all of the gaps in the roof and walls.

Response from Dick: It makes sense. They do get very strong and frequent winds out there! Often! There is another factor with this particular old barn. About the first day of August of 1949, the roof blew off the 1915 barn during a big windstorm. As a matter of fact, we were staying in the house, 200 feet away, that very night. It was a scary evening to say the least. I was 9, and I remember the fright of the night! There was lots of damage in LaMoure County. Re the barn itself, all that was lost was the entire roof; even the floor of the hayloft was intact. My Dad, being a schoolteacher and on summer break, stayed and helped build new roof beams, one at a time. My Grandpa had made the form, based on a barn he saw in the area. The construction of the beams was by hand and thorough. It is also possible that the roof itself, at least to this point, buttresses the rest of the structure, but that will change unless it is re-roofed. Without extensive and very expensive renovation, the barn will not be saved. Most likely, I would guess, someday we will see a pole barn for the small herd the new owners of the farmstead hope to have. It is an interesting process.

from Jo: Your farm story brought back my entire childhood until I turned 17 and came to [college]. I can read paragraph after paragraph of your story and it so resembles my story. We had a huge red barn which also went with the wind. It lifted the roof and haymow over the house we lived in and set it down on the pasture past us. This haymow we used to swing out over and drop into the hay that had been brought in by a team of horses and hayrack and pulled up to the huge opening with a chain which the horses pulled up (the sling hooked unto the dropped down part). When that load of hay was in the proper part of the haymow, a trip rope would trip the catch and it would drop unto the haymow floor. It took many trips with that hayrack, (each held 2 slings) to fill that large area. There were holes to throw down the hay into each stall below where the milk cows stood. For safety sake, I am sure, each hole was surrounded with about a 5 foot tall box around it with a lid. Harder to put the hay down as have to be lifted up before going down. Our cream cans were not picked up, they were driven to the Casselton Creamery by us. As we waited for them to be processed, our great and always anticipated joy was to order and savor an ice cream malted milk. They probably cost 10 cents or a quarter.

Our pasture was filled with large cottonwoods under whose shade in summer we would sometimes picnic. One of the first “jobs” I had was to help to drive the milk cows to the “North Pasture”. It was through the regular pasture and over the railroads tracks so there was a gate to get over the tracks and one to get into the N. pasture with due diligence paid to making sure there was no train either way. Not being old or big enough to open those gates, pulled shut with a barbed wire round, I was the chaser for cows that started other ways.

So thanks for triggering some very old memories. Life is so far from that now. Thank goodness.

from Dick, in addition: Thanks very much for this. We are old enough, now, I’d guess, to admit that we had our feet pretty deep in what truly were “the old days”. We just came to the farm to visit, but because we moved so much (my folks were both small town school teachers), the farm really became a “home town” in a very real sense of the word for me. They didn’t get electricity until the very late 1940s, so a wind charger did that duty; Grandpa was the rural telephone guy (“three longs and a short”, and perhaps 20 parties could “rubberneck” on calls), that sort of thing. But it was a good, solid upbringing for us.

*

Below are two photos, one after the storm, and one of the beams. You can click twice on them and see a closer enlargement.

Henry Bernard in the hay mow June, 1991, standing by the roof beams he helped construct in 1949.

Look closely at the below and you can see all five Bernard kids, including John, who was then a year old. Plus Mary Ann, Florence, Frank and Richard. Henry is hidden behind Richard.

The Bernard kids the morning after the barn went down, summer 1949. Richard (Dick) is the kid facing away from the camera.

Dick Bernard: Dec 22, 1987, and Nov. 7, 1997: Remembering Two Days in the Life of Dad.

Sunday, November 6th, 2016

Today we were planning to be at Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL, for the 50th anniversary of the Apartment Community, where my Dad, Henry Bernard, lived the last ten years of his life, 1987-97. A scheduling conflict caused a change in plans, so, rather than being on site today, I decided to do what Dad liked to do…look through pictures and reminisce. His travels “were by the National Geographic”, he liked to say.

I’ve picked one particular day in his life at Our Lady of the Snows: his 80th birthday, December 22, 1987.

(click to enlarge photos)

Henry Bernard at home, Apt. 96A, Our Lady of the Snows.

Henry Bernard at home, Apt. 96A, Our Lady of the Snows.

Dad moved north, from San Benito TX, in August, 1987. His San Benito friends, the Brasher’s, were “winter Texans” and lived in Belleville, and suggested he “try out” the Apartment Community for a trial period. He was 79. Mom had died in 1981. It was time.

Depending on one’s point of view, Dad either came and conquered, or was conquered by, this beautiful place with a great view of St. Louis Gateway Arch directly west. He took an efficiency apartment, which over time became his house (in almost a real sense). The beautiful grounds became his lawn, perfect for long walks; the chapel and the library were a short walk indoors, and there was a woodworking shop which he used, and exercise facilities as well. I would guess he was considered a “character” by the community at large. In assorted ways we kids saw him in action each time we visited. He was no recluse!

I choose one particular visit.

His 80th birthday was December 22, 1987, and he set himself a goal, per a national fitness program, to walk a 15 minute mile every day for 80 days, ending on his 80th birthday. His chosen route began at the ampitheater down the hill, and was timed to end at the Angelus bell.

My sister and I were there in the very early morning of day 80, to walk the route with him. He posed for a photo before he began.

The Walking Route, Dec. 22, 1987.  The goal was at the more or less directly behind Dad.

The Walking Route, Dec. 22, 1987. The goal was at the more or less directly behind Dad.

It was a rather icy day, I recall, but that was no deterrent for our Dad. He’d set his goal…period. Back and forth, row by row, he walked briskly. He was hard to keep up with. He was 6’3″, and he had been conditioning for this for 80 days! He arrived at his destination after 13 minutes. We were not far behind. I was pooped. The Angelus Bells rang.

His apartment, 96A, was a place to behold: a single bed, a homemade desk, a recliner, telephone, radio (to listen to the St. Louis Cardinals baseball games, etc.) There was never a dull moment in his life, right to the end. At his Memorial Mass at the Apartment Community Chapel a few weeks after his death we played an audio tape about family that he had recorded some years earlier at Our Lady of the Snows for St. Louis’ shutins on Radio Information Service (RIS) for the Blind. It was a nice testimony about him, for others.

I had especially hoped to be there this year because, not part of the communities planning of course, his death was on the evening of this day, early in the morning of November 7, 1997, when Dad died in the geriatric unit at Our Lady of the Snows. My sister and I were there at the end. He almost made 90.

Less than two weeks after his death I was back in Illinois, at a conference at the O’Hare Hilton, and picked up a copy of the Chicago Sunday Tribune. By chance, this day, I came across this column by Mary Schmich: My father died 1997001.

To this day, when somebody’s father dies, I sent them a copy of the column.

The following Memorial Day, 1998, we family members gathered at the Apartment Community to dedicate a flag pole to the memory of our Dad, and his brother, our Uncle Frank Bernard, who died December 7, 1941 on the USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor. We thought it a most appropriate memorial, and it is still there. Here is the program from that day: henry-bernard-flag-dedic008

Dedication of flagpole with Grandpa Bernards 48 star flag, Memorial Day, 1998, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL

Dedication of flagpole with Grandpa Bernards 48 star flag, Memorial Day, 1998, Our Lady of the Snows, Belleville IL

We Dads are people like everyone else. We have our stories, our triumphs, tragedies, dilemmas…. This is a good day for me to remember my Dad. I hope this story has a similar effect for you, about someone in your own life.

On the grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

On the grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

At work in his "office" in Unit 96A

At work in his “office” in Unit 96A

Checking for a "postal" in the days before computers took over.  I doubt he ever actually touched a computer!

Checking for a “postal” in the days before computers took over. I doubt he ever actually touched a computer!

The Birthday Photo in Dad's unit Dec. 22, 1987.

The Birthday Photo in Dad’s unit Dec. 22, 1987.

The St. Louis Gateway Arch from the Apartment Community Grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

The St. Louis Gateway Arch from the Apartment Community Grounds, Dec. 22, 1987

#1164 – Dick Bernard: A Friend, Annelee Woodstrom, turns 90

Saturday, September 17th, 2016
Annelee holds court, August 13, 2016

Annelee holds court, August 13, 2016

Today, up in Ada, MN, there will be a little party for our friend, Annelee (Anneliese Soelch) Woodstrom, who is about to turn 90.

I say “little”, facetiously. When someone has lived in a town for 57 years; was a longtime teacher in the area public schools (Twin Valley); is a well known author, still writing and speaking publicly about her experiences growing up in Nazi Germany, and living as a war bride in post war United States (Crookston and Ada MN), one picks up a friend here or there.

Annelee wrote yesterday “Tonight 11 people will be here, 10 arrive tonight. Well, we will manage. Four of my relatives flew in from Germany.”

A while back she asked for a print of the old barn at the North Dakota farm of my ancestors, so our birthday gift to her, received earlier this week, is

(click to enlarge)

Busch barn, rural Berlin ND, May 24, 2015

Busch barn, rural Berlin ND, May 24, 2015

She said, “Somehow, that photo gives me peace.”

I’m very happy to oblige, with special thanks to the family friend who took the photo in the first place.

I happened across Annelee 13 years ago, when I read in the Fargo (ND) Forum about her new book, “War Child Growing Up in Adolf Hitler’s Germany” (see link above). Our friendship started there, and I was honored to help her with her second, “Empty Chairs”, about her years in Minnesota; and now I’m assisting on her third, as yet untitled, which ties her abundant life learnings together. The reunion today puts the third book in the background, but only for awhile. She’ll be back at it, and I have no doubt it will be completed.

It was her lot in life to begin schooling in Mitterteich Germany, (walking distance from today’s Czech Republic) coincident with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. Her parents refused to join the Nazi party, and at 13 her formal schooling ended and she was put to work as a telegrapher, living through the worst times of the war, reduced almost to starvation at the end.

Her father, a road engineer by trade, was conscripted into the German Army, and except for one home leave, he was never seen again. They believe he died in Russia, but are not sure.

She met her “Gentleman Soldier” Kenny Woodstrom at war’s end, and in 1947 came to the United States as an “alien” to marry him – a marriage of over 50 years, till his death in 1998.

In the late 1960s, she decided to go to college at Moorhead State, and commuted back and forth from Ada, and for 22 years she taught in Twin Valley Minnesota Public Schools, at one point being recognized as a finalist for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. It was an honor she richly deserved.

nea001

One of her two children, a daughter, Sandy, was killed by a drunken driver, and her son, Roy, was a long-time librarian at a Minneapolis public library. Her son, daughter in law, Linda, grandchildren and great grandchildren and a great many others will be greeting her today in Ada.

Annelee’s is one of many life stories. She still does public speaking, and if you have an opportunity to hear her speak, make it a point….

Happy Birthday, Annelee.

#1163 – Dick Bernard: 9-11-16, and the dark days of 2001-2009

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Friday, my wife and I and our 87 year old neighbor Don, went to the local theatre to be among the first to see the new movie, Sully, the incredible story of the emergency landing of an airliner in the Hudson River off NYC in January, 2009. “How can you take a 90 second event and turn it into a 90 minute movie?” my friend asked.

Very, very easily. Take in the film. The basic true story is here.

*

Of course (I’m certain), the movie was timed to be released on the eve of the 15th anniversary of 9-11-01, even though the near-disaster actually happened in January, 2009.

I have feelings about 9-11-01. At the end of this post, I share a few personal links from that period in time. I will always have doubts about certain and substantial parts of the official narrative about what happened that awful day, though that labels me as a “conspiracy theorist” I suppose. So be it.

*

But what occurs to me this day in 2016 came to mind a few days ago when I found a cardboard envelope in a box, whose contents included this certificate (8 1/2×11 in original size).

Notice the signature on the certificate (Donald Rumsfeld) and the date of the form printed in the lower left corner (July 1, 2001). (Click to enlarge).

cold-war-certificate-001

The full contents of the envelope can be viewed here: cold-war-cert-packet003

Of course, people like myself had no idea why the article appeared in the newspaper, or how this particular project came to be.

It is obvious from the documents themselves that the free certificate was publicized no later than sometime in 1999; and the certificate itself wasn’t mailed until some time in 2001 to my then mailing address…. The original website about the certificate seems no longer accessible, but there is a wikipedia entry about it.

When I revisited the envelope I remembered a working group of powerful people called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) formed in the late 1990s.

The group as then constituted no longer officially exists, but had (my opinion) huge influence on America’s disastrous response to 9-11-01 (which continues to this day).

Many members of this select group, including Donald Rumsfeld, and Richard B. Cheney, strategized to establish permanent U.S. dominance in the world, and had very high level positions in the administration of George W. Bush, 2001-2009. PNAC was no benign committee of friends meeting for coffee every Saturday. To cement the notion that to have peace you must be stronger than the enemy…there has to be an enemy. If not a hot war, then a cold war will have to do. Keep things unsettled and people will follow some dominant leader more easily.

Their Cold War ended in December, 1991, as you’ll note, which likely was cause for concern. 9-11-01 became the magic elixir for a permanent war with an enemy….

(I happen to be a long-time member of the American Legion also – the Cuban Missile Crisis and the beginning of the Vietnam era were part of my tour of duty in the Army – and much more recently, the Legion magazine
updated talk about the Cold War, here: America at War001.)

My opinion: there remains a desperate and powerful need by powerful entities to sustain an enemy for the U.S. to fight against and, so goes the story, “win”, to borrow a phrase and “make America great again”. As we learned in the years after 9-11-01, dominance has a huge and unsustainable cost. But the idea still lives on.

The mood of the people of this country is for peace – it is simple common sense – but peacemakers have to do much more than simply demonstrate against war to have it come to pass, in a sustainable fashion.

*

Yes, 9-11-01 was very impactful for me. Here are three personal reflections: 1) chez-nous-wtc-2001002; 2) here; and 3) here: Post 9-11-01001.

I have never been comfortable with the official explanations about many aspects of 9-11-01 and what came after. It is not enough to be ridiculed into silence. Eight years ago my friend Dr. Michael Andregg spent a year doing what I consider a scholarly piece of work about some troubling aspects he saw with 9-11-01. You can watch it online in Rethinking 9-11 at the website, Ground Zero Minnesota. Dr. Andregg made this film for those who are open to critical thinking about an extremely important issue. I watched it again, online, in the last couple of days. It is about 54 minutes, and very well done. Take a look.

Let’s make 9-11-01 a day for peace, not for endless and never to be won war. Humanity deserves better.

(click to enlarge. Photos: Dick Bernard, late June, 1972)

World Trade Center Towers late June 1972, New York City

World Trade Center Towers late June 1972, New York City

Twin Towers from Statue of Liberty, late June, 1972.  (one tower was newly opened, the other nearly completed)

Twin Towers from Statue of Liberty, late June, 1972. (one tower was newly opened, the other nearly completed)

Here, thanks to a long ago handout at a workshop I took in the early 70s, is a more normal reaction sequence to a crisis. As you’ll note, it is useful to allow 9-11-01 to live on and on and on. It is not healthy.

(click to enlarge)

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

#1162 – Dick Bernard: Labor Day, back to school for most of Minnesota’s school kids.

Monday, September 5th, 2016

From Sunday’s Minneapolis Star Tribune about the recovery of Jacob Wetterlings body more than 25 years after he was kidnapped near St. Joseph MN and killed in October, 1979: here is the local news.

Jacob is at peace, and the lessons of his tragic death live on through the dedication of his family and many others who carry forward the message of his tragic death. Here for more information.

*

Most Minnesota schools begin on Tuesday, September 6.

In rough terms, it appears there will be about 900,000 students enrolled this year, with about 125,000 school staff, of which licensed personnel are about half. Roughly one of five Minnesotans will be in public school tomorrow. Here is a snapshot. Public Education is central to a functioning society.

Public Education has been an important part of my entire personal and professional life, from growing up in a family where my parents were both career public school teachers, to, this year, having eight grandchildren in Minnesota public schools.

Each year for many years one of my mandatory stops at the Minnesota State Fair is the booth of Education Minnesota, formerly called MEA (Minnesota Education Association) and MFT (Minnesota Federation of Teachers). This year was no different. Again this year I got my photo at the “Ed MN” booth (see end of post); Saturday, back again, I stopped in and took a photo of a couple of Minnesota Kindergarten teachers.

(click to enlarge)

Minnesota State Fair Sep. 3, 2016, Education Minnesota booth.

Minnesota State Fair Sep. 3, 2016, Education Minnesota booth.

I have great admiration for Minnesota Public Schools and the staff who are their face every day. Being a human institution, they are not perfect, but their charge is to serve children from early childhood through 12th grade. They do it very well.

My experience as a school teacher began in 1963; this year I choose to remember 1969, the year my oldest son began Kindergarten at age 5 in the explosively growing Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Tom attended Franklin Elementary School in Anoka. His teacher that year was Miss Murphy, an older lady who was very kindly and a magician with kids. She retired a year or two later.

Kindergarten at that point in time was half day, as I recall. (Full day kindergarten was years away; kindergarten itself did not exist in my own growing up years.)

In 1969, I recall that Tom’s kindergarten class included 36 youngsters. If you can imagine it, Miss Murphy had no classroom assistance. Her way of coping with this was to work with half of the students at a time, and in some magical way keep the other half occupied more or less by themselves in the same room, all by herself.

That is how I remember it.

Anoka-Hennepin was then an extremely rapidly growing school district, with a very low tax base. I can’t find fault with what today would be considered intolerable conditions. Young families moved in, and the district just couldn’t keep up with the growth.

Fast forward to today, and conditions are better.

And it is now recognized that the earlier a child is exposed to all aspects of education, including socialization, the better off he or she will be in the years that follow.

Money spent on children is money invested, not spent.

I wish all Kindergarten teachers, indeed all teachers, and all of their students, a good year. And I also wish that the certain unforseen events are minimal.

Happy New (School) Year!

Solidarity t-shirt, Fall, 1981

Solidarity t-shirt, Fall, 1981

POSTNOTE:

Sunday afternoon I flipped on the local PBS station, and happened across a sequence of three programs on early U.S. Labor Movement history: Minnesota’s Iron Range; Upper Michigan’s Copper Country; and West Virginia’s Coal Country. It was a gripping two to three hours, with characters like Mother Jones, and John L. Lewis. The programs may be repeated and are well worth watching.

Succinctly, management was terrified of organized labor.

In my opinion, in many ways it still is terrified, to everyone’s detriment, including management itself. (Organized Labor built this country’s middle class, which, in turn, built this country’s economy, both as producers and consumers. It is the most elementary economics.)

The programs caused me to revisit my stop at that Education Minnesota booth on Saturday: Education Minnesota is, I think, Minnesota’s largest single AFL-CIO Union.

A couple of weeks ago I had occasion to revisit my own part in the labor movement, going back to the late 1960s and early 1970s, now near 50 years ago. The short essay was not written for this blog, but nonetheless fits. Here it is, if you’re interested: UniServ, one persons experience, Dick Bernard Aug 19, 2016.

It is easy to criticize unions. As for me, I’m very proud to have been part of the organized labor movement. When Unions die, our society will die along with them.

At the Education Minnesota Booth, September 1, 2014.  The hat is for Sykeston ND, where I graduated from HS in 1958 - third in a class of 8.

At the Education Minnesota Booth, September 1, 2014. The hat is for Sykeston ND, where I graduated from HS in 1958 – third in a class of 8.

#1161 – Dick Bernard: Two deaths on a lovely and lonely beach.

Saturday, September 3rd, 2016

Thursday morning I woke up to a bit of news that two people had been found by a solitary kayaker, dead on a beach in Washington state.

Solitary Kayaker, from note card of Wenatchee Foothills published by The Trust for Public Land*

Solitary Kayaker, from note card of Wenatchee Foothills published by The Trust for Public Land*

Nothing about that kind of tragedy is particularly unusual: such events are every day on our news. It seemed to have been a murder/suicide. The death was 1500 miles and several states away from me.

But there was something else in this news: one of the dead was a teacher in a nearby Twin Cities suburb in which my daughter is a school board member. He was about to begin his 14th year as a teacher in an outstanding elementary school that has been attended by four of my grandchildren beginning more than 10 years ago. Indeed, two of them will return there with several hundred other students two days from now.

Over the years we’d gone to many school programs there; probably there will be more this year.

Last Wednesday all was probably normal over there. Overnight, everything changed in a single piece of news**.

This will not be a normal beginning to a school year for the young people or their teachers and other school personnel.

The teacher’s Dad had also once been Superintendent of the school district, and in fact, I had met him once or twice when he was employed as an administrator in another nearby school district. He was a decent person, doubtless a good Dad to this teacher who was now dead.

Succinctly, this anonymous tragedy far away had become, for me, a matter of family.

Now these deaths on a Washington beach intersected with my own “circle”, and with the circles of hundreds of others.

There was, of course, more to the story.

The deaths apparently were directly related to apparently credible allegations of sexual exploitation of at least one, and perhaps more, young people by those who were found dead. The couple were male, gay; their alleged victim, a minor male, also gay, probably high school age.

So, into the conversation comes the matter of sexual abuse by people – in this case, a teacher – of vulnerable children. And the business of sex, and gays…inevitable topics.

Suddenly, everybody in the circle becomes at least a little suspect…what did they know about their child, their colleague, their friend?

There is fear, and guilt and all of the attendant negative emotions.

For a period of time, everybody will be ensnared in the web which began for some reason at some point in the past.

Years ago I kept a handout from a workshop on how the response to such a crisis will go. It seems pertinent to share, now.

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Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Other than offering support, as a parent, as a grandparent, there is not much I can do.

All I can say is that we are all family, far more than by the narrow definition (parent, child, house).

Life will go on in this fine school, and school district; for the affected families what was normal will forever be changed.

My hope is that there will be lots of serious conversations about how we all can do better.

And my best wishes go out to everyone who is now or will soon be in the schools of America and every country.

Give them even more support than usual this year.

* – Trust for Public Land sent this card some months ago as part of a fundraiser. Their website is here.

** – I am deliberately not printing specific names, places, etc. The news is very well known in this locality. It is the sad nature of the incident and its aftermath that is the topic.

#1159 – Dick Bernard: Ruby Fitzgerald. Farewell to a gentle lady.

Monday, August 29th, 2016

The note announcing the death of Ruby Fitzgerald, age 95, began with a photo (below) and ended with a brief note “The tiny plaque pictured on the front of this card graced Ruby’s kitchen wall for most of her life.”

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Ruby Fitzgerald

Saturday, I was fortunate to be in a room filled with people who all were privileged to know Ruby over the years. I think Ruby would have been very pleased. Here is the written story of Ruby Fitzgerald as presented by her family: Ruby Fitzgerald002.

My mother and Ruby were first cousins; actually double cousins: their respective Mom and Dads were brother and sister, and they grew up on adjoining farms in rural Berlin, North Dakota.

As happens, family life paths diverged, and because of geography, they only rarely saw each other, and we didn’t get to know Ruby.

Ruby and my Aunt Edithe, born two months apart, graduated from the same high school in the Berlin High School class of 1938. Their families and many others had weathered the very worst of the Great Depression together. Probably from that experience came the significance of Ruby’s plaque pictured in the death announcement.

Ruby was an honor student, and had a scholarship to Jamestown College, but there was no money to go to college. That is how the Great Depression was.

In 1993, for a Busch-Berning family history, Ruby wrote a very vivid descriptive story of her years on the North Dakota farm . You can read it here: Ruby Fitzgerald 1993001. Anyone of a certain age, who grew up in rural North Dakota, will quickly identify with her description of rural life.

I only saw the Fitzgeralds a few times, but the visits are remembered fondly. For some reason, way back, I drove the then-country Jamaca Avenue west of Stillwater to visit them at their small farm. Most likely, then, I was starting my search for the family history of the Busch and Berning families. Their’s was a warm, hospitable place.

By good fortune, in going through my Busch family pictures this summer, I came across a photo of Ruby and her twin sister Ruth taken about 1921.

Ruby and Ruth Berning ca 1921 at home.

Ruby and Ruth Berning ca 1921 at home.

I took the photo to Ruby at the Ramsey County Nursing Home on Father’s day weekend, and she filled in the details of a fact I had known for years, without knowing the details. She was obviously moved by the photo.

She said that Ruth, her sister, had died at age 2 1/2 of whooping cough, most likely at the rural Cuba City WI farm home of her mother, Christina’s, parents, Wilhelm and Christina Busch. (After 13 years in North Dakota, the family went back home for the birth of the twins; thence they stayed in Wisconsin or Dubuque for another thirteen years before returning to the North Dakota farm, which they had rented out. The plant in which Ruth’s Dad worked had closed, and as I heard another family member say, at least on the farm they could have a garden, and eat. That is how it was.)

Three weeks after she saw the photo, Ruby died.

We all have our stories.

Ruby lives on through a wonderful family, and great memories.

I’m honored I could be present on Saturday. Ruby is at peace, and our world is the better for her having been with us.

Chritina Berning 1939

Chritina Berning 1939

August Berning 1941

August Berning 1941

The Berning girls 1977.  (There were two boys, August and Melvin, plus two young children, a boy and girl, who died very young.)

The Berning girls 1977. (There were two boys, August and Melvin, plus two young children, a boy and girl, who died very young.)

Ruby is 4th from left in the photo.

#1152 – Dick Bernard: The Newspaper; Government by Twitter

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Those interested in why I very strongly support Hillary Clinton for President can read my post from Sunday here. The post includes several comments pro and con as well.

Personally, I always find the perspectives of Just Above Sunset informative. The latest is here.

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The Packing Crate, June 7, 2015

The Packing Crate, June 7, 2015

Dubuque paper001

Monday evening came one of those far too infrequent “faceoffs” (as Dad would say) with my cousin and her husband from Winnipeg. We had a too-short but animated visit over dinner in Edina, and covered lots of bases, a small part of which touched U.S. politics, which is a natural point of interest (and concern) for Canadians, who share thousands of miles of border with us.

My relatives, who grew up in the border area just north of the Minnesota/North Dakota border, still speak their native French as first language. At the same time, they are equally fluent in English, and have been dual citizens of the U.S. and Canada for years.

The conversation drifted to Ovila, my Dad’s first cousin, and my cousins father, born in the early 1900s.

How did Ovila learn English in the days before television, living on a farm in a section of Manitoba whose first language has always been French?

The answer to this question is complex, but as I recall, the newspaper was a primary vehicle, and as I recall from my own conversation with him years ago, catalogs, a primary source of information about goods for the farm. He self-taught himself English.

Ovila read every word of the newspaper, as did his neighbors. They were very well informed. Made no difference who wrote what, agree or not, it was consumed.

It caused me to think about my German grandparents, whose now-former farm has been my preoccupation for the last two or three years.

Being male, my focus was on Grandpa. Their country mailbox was full of paper: the weekly newspaper from LaMoure; the Jamestown and Fargo papers; the Farm Journal; catalogs; on an on. And they were religiously read. People like my Mom occasionally contributed a piece of poetry; I have articles Grandpa wrote soliciting membership in the fledgling Farmers Union in 1928. And on and on and on.

Last year, while going through the abundant detritus after my Uncle died, we looked through a well constructed coffin like packing crate obviously used to bring possessions to the North Dakota farm from Wisconsin when Grandma and Grandpa moved there in 1905 (see photos above, and following). Among the precious contents (at the time), Grandma’s wedding dress, and assorted ‘stuff’, then to be saved, now of little interest, except in passing.

The Packing Crate revealing its contents, May 24, 2015.

The Packing Crate revealing its contents, May 24, 2015.

In the box were two crumbling Dubuque newspapers, one in English; the other in my grandparents native German. Probably they had been delivered to the Wisconsin farm, and were handy when they were packing stuff for shipment to ‘Dakota. The articles in the English edition covered the waterfront (photo above); I’m sure the same was true for the German edition. What is certain, every page of each of these newspapers had seen many eyes. (Grandma and Grandpa married Feb. 28, 1905; he, his brother and his cousin came west first to build a house and such; Grandma came about six weeks later. The crate likely carried her belongings.)

Fast forward to today, August 3, 2016.

Those old newspapers, with readers whose education seldom was past 8th grade, were astonishing pieces of literature.

Today’s small town newspapers, like the LaMoure Chronicle, carry on the tradition of the past. They are a treasure to be savored.

But now we’re in the “Twitter Generation”: news by headline. I don’t need to define that any further. We can pick our own particular bias, and pretend that it is not only the only perspective that matters, but that it is the only perspective. We know that’s not true, but…. Our collective narrowness, made possible by infinite organs of “communication”, serve us ill. I think we know that, but it is easy to deny this reality.

Today far too many of us choose, freely, to be uninformed, EXCEPT to confirm our own biases. Our Elders had less means to receive and share communications, but in many ways they were much better informed and prepared to participate in a civil society than we are.

We are not at our best, these days: watch the political polemics. Hopefully we’ll survive our collective and intentional ignorance particularly of other points of view.

.

#1136 – Dick Bernard: The Man in the Background: Father’s Day 2016

Sunday, June 19th, 2016

I continue to go through hundreds of photos left as part of the legacy of the North Dakota farm. Recently I was looking at this one:

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Memorial Park Grand Rapids ND ca late 1940s early 1950s

Memorial Park Grand Rapids ND ca late 1940s early 1950s

The initial focus was the women in the group photo. I didn’t know any of them, and I’ve sent them to a ND friend lifelong in that area to perhaps identify one or two or more of them.

But my interest turned to the guy in the background, who seems to be holding a stick, doing something.

On initial glance it looks like a stick, maybe a baseball bat. On the other hand, it may well be a croquet mallet for a lawn game popular back then. The stick may look a little fatter than in should because it is a bit blurred. If you click a second time over the man, you can almost see the croquet ball to the right, to his front….

Almost certainly the camera had caught a Sunday outing at the Memorial Park – the folks were all dressed up, as if after Church. Also, almost certainly, the women and men were farmers or engaged in agriculture in some way. Most were likely Moms or Dads, and Sunday was a day of rest.

If I’m right – that it is croquet I’m seeing. Not far away some more men were throwing “horseshoes” – real ones. And off to the left was the baseball diamond, where the town team was playing some out of town bunch, and there were kids, and people fishing, and visiting, and picnics and this and that.

As was (and is) most often the case, the old photos is not labeled as to year or people. It didn’t occur to anybody that somebody, 60 or more years later, would care who or what….

As I say, this was a farm photo, and there were hundreds of them, and I’m still going through them, and they won’t be thrown away.

Most were taken by a couple of versions of old box cameras, thence as time goes on, assorted new fangled cameras replaced them. Everytime we came to visit, Grandpa would gather us on the lawn for the traditional picture before we left for home. This was a Grandma deal as well, and their children followed suit.

The picture exists because somebody felt it important to not only record the moment, but to keep it for posterity.

The picture itself is just another moment in the life of some people out in North Dakota, among many moments in many days in many lives, filled with good times and not-so-good, crops, relationships, tragedies, children, whatever.

As we all know, some days are better than others….

Today at Basilica of St. Mary, Fr. Bauer asked all the men to stand up, and recognized every male there for whatever role they play in others lives. It was a nice touch, typical.

While this is a specific Father’s Day, yet another tradition in our society, all of us, regardless of gender, play a part in making our world a better place.

We are all fathers and mothers.

Have a great day.

#1134 – Dick Bernard: Grandpa Bernard’s Can of Pebbles

Sunday, June 5th, 2016

Now and again in our growing up years we made it up to Grafton ND to visit Grandma and Grandpa* Bernard, who lived in a tiny house at 738 Cooper Avenue.

Grandpa, 68 when I was born, and 85 when he died, was a most interesting character, starting life in Quebec on a farm, then an asbestos miner at Thetford Mines QC, thence a lumberjack, a carpenter, and finally chief engineer of the Flour Mill in Grafton (he came from a line of probably hundreds of years of millers in France and thence in Quebec. His brother, Joe, was chief miller in Grafton.)

This particular day, Grandpa was sitting on his accustomed perch on the front stoop, basically exactly as shown in the old photo:

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Henry and Josephine Bernard, 738 Cooper Ave, Grafton ND, ca early 1950s.

Henry and Josephine Bernard, 738 Cooper Ave, Grafton ND, ca early 1950s.

I don’t recall Grandma being there, but we kids were, and at some point Grandpa looked over his shoulder and saw a dog trotting down the sidewalk.

“See that dog?”, he said. Then he picked up his homemade slingshot, and fished a pebble out of the nearby can and made sure the dog saw it.

No word (nor bark) was spoken.

The dog kept coming till some invisible “do not cross” line; at that point, making a hard right, trotting across the street; hard left past Grandpa; and on about whatever business the dog was about that sunny day.

Grandpa loved dogs, best I know, but there was a time and a place for everything, and apparently this neighbor had to be reminded, now and again, of the rules of the road at Grandpa’s house.

The parties understood the rules….

There are endless Grandpa (and Grandma) lessons conveyed to us, as we all know, once past a certain age. Things we just soak up, without realizing it at the time.

Not all the stories were conveyed directly, or even intentionally. For instance, across the alley from the tiny house was the Walsh county yard where things like snowplows and other public machines were kept. And down the street was the Courthouse, and the local Jail….

And there was the annual event at the Courthouse where the last remaining veterans of the Spanish-American War had an annual remembrance of their fallen comrades. It was always impressive and Grandpa was always in it.

There was something else about Grandpa, which you can see in the picture.

He had one leg.

The other he had lost to diabetes in 1946. Since he was a veteran, that leg was amputated at the VA Hospital, in Fargo; as was the second, at the time he died in 1957.

He used to entertain we kids with the stub of the missing leg.

Over time, I’ve come to learn that he lived to entertain us because a government agency, the VA, had saved his life; and Social Security, enacted about the time he turned 65, was what they had for retirement. His source of livelihood, the Flour Mill, had gone out of business on short notice right before the stock market crash in 1929; and at almost exactly the same time, the bank with nearly all their savings, went under due to fraud.

Overnite they went from regular middle class to dependent on others. It was the year Dad graduated from high school, and, of course, his plans on going to the University of North Dakota were dashed.

Of course, if there’s a grandpa, there’s a grandma.

Just yesterday I came across an old photo of my other grandmother, Rosa (Berning) Busch, with the Ladies Aid of Berlin North Dakota in September, 1946 (See below). Grandma is the lady kneeling in the front row at the center of the photo.

There are lots and lots of Grandma stories, as well as Mrs. Busch stories, even to this day.

No extra stories to be conveyed here, but an encouragement to remember your own, about those who came before you.

And to emphasize what is no longer often seen as obvious: we like to think we are, as individuals, in charge of our own universe.

What our ancestors knew, imperfectly, was that we all do better when we all do better.

Berlin ND Ladies Club September 1946.  Rosa Berning Busch kneeling, second from right.

Berlin ND Ladies Club September 1946. Rosa Berning Busch kneeling, second from right.

* There exists, to my knowledge, a single film clip recording Grandpa Bernard and others “sidewalk superintending” in Grafton ND in 1949, when a crew was paving the Main Street. His moment of fame come at four minutes 15 second mark. You can view it here.

Of course, we all have two sets of grandparents, whether we got to know them or not. And there are all manner of other relationships which would take a long writing to describe in any detail…for each of us in our own lives.

In my own case, Grandpa Bernard died almost exactly on my 17th birthday, in 1957; Grandma Bernard died near my 23rd birthday, in 1963; Grandpa Busch died in 1967, less than two weeks after their 62nd wedding anniversary, coming up the stairs from the basement with some eggs for breakfast; Grandma Busch died in early August, 1972, at 88. Lore has it that she lingered on long enough so that her youngest son, my uncle Art, could make it from Chicago. He did, and she died very soon thereafter.