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#929 – Dick Bernard: Aiming at the Moon (and hitting ourselves); a thought on redefining how we see relationships with our world, and about the matter of changing attitudes..

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Early Wednesday morning, August 21, I was heading out for coffee from my motel in LaMoure ND, and a sight begging to be photographed appeared a few steps to my left, and I couldn’t pass on it. Here’s the snapshot. The waning moon appeared to be in the “bullseye”.

(click to enlarge)

August 21, 2014, 6:15 a.m., LaMoure ND

August 21, 2014, 6:15 a.m., LaMoure ND

I’m very familiar with the sight: I stay often at this motel. August 10, on a previous trip, I’d taken a photo of the permanently on display Minuteman Missile you see in the photo. But this one, with the moon as the bullseye, was unique. I just looked up the Phase of the Moon I photographed that day: here.

More about this missile at the end of this post.

My trips to LaMoure, these past months especially, have always been work, both physical and emotional. I go into a “news blackout”, basically, too busy to read a newspaper; too tired to even watch TV news. So it wasn’t until I arrived home late on the 21st that I learned of the decapitation of the American journalist in Syria by an ISIS person with a distinctly British accent; and I saw the image of some ISIS hotshots showing off with some American tank, either purchased or captured in Iraq and now part of the ISIS arsenal.

Suddenly our omnipotence does not seem so potent. The radicals in ISIS seem far more dangerous and ominous than al Qaeda a few years ago, essentially thumbing their collective noses at us, using our own weapons and tactics, and we can’t do a thing about it. So we debate around the edges of the true reality, which is we can no longer control the world, and our past actions have consequences. We now debate on whether or not we should pay ransom to rescue captured journalists or others, and we face the prospect of dealing with shadowy enemies who look and talk just exactly like us. (“American” are very diverse, should anyone not have noticed. The traditional order has irreversibly changed.)

This is a very complex situation in which we find ourselves, even worse than our no-win Iraq adventure which began in 2003 with bragging that we had won that war less than two months into that awful and deadly and endless conflict (which still continues).

We now have to live within the world which we have made.

When I got home this week, I decided to review the history of the Minuteman Missile, which was a creature of my time in North Dakota.

August 10, 2014, LaMoure ND

August 10, 2014, LaMoure ND


We Americans love our weaponry: the Biblical “Ploughshares” doesn’t seem to have a chance against “Swords”. We’re so strong, armed so well, peace runs a far distant second to the advantage of overwhelming military superiority – or so goes the conversation. Look for Monuments to Peace in your circuits. And to War. And see who wins. (One organization I support whose sole mission is a Peace Memorial is here. Check it out.)

Googling “Minuteman North Dakota” just now brought forth a North Dakota Historical Society site which for some odd reason is dedicated to President Ronald Reagan.

The Minutemen were children of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson during the Cold War, and were planted between 1961-67 in the heat of the Cold War (Reagan was in office much later, 1981-89).

When you’re talking man-up, whose name is attached to manning-up matters, I guess.

I see lowly ploughshares memorialized from time to time, but they’re seldom named for a person, compared with war memorials, they are minuscule in number.

FDR was President when the Nuclear Age was born; and Truman was President when the Atomic Bombs were first used, and Eisenhower was at the helm when other weapons of mutually assured destruction were developed and tested.

Actually, all the military toys ought to be dedicated to “we, the people” who fund, and indeed have insisted on their development through our Congress, which by action (or inaction) authorizes endless war and military investment.

(Changing this reality is not simple: for instance, my Grandmother on the ND farm* 10 miles from that Missile in the photos, was joyful when the A-Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1945(Atomic Bomb 1945001). Her bias was her son, an officer on a Destroyer in the Pacific. She wanted him home safe. The U.S. War Department, then, rhapsodized in public relations releases that this deadly bomb might be the key to ending war forever.

And Saturday night I was at a Minnesota Twins baseball game with a family group which included my granddaughters father-in-law. He’s a great guy. Much of his career as an Air Force enlisted man was making sure those ND Minuteman sites were secure….)

As a country we have supported these symbols of our supposed omnipotence, without regard to partisan designation. It is dangerous for a politician to speak against War.

Now a few countries, especially the U.S. and Russia, are awash in nuclear weapons which, if ever used, even one, by some lawless renegade leader or thief, will take a long step towards mutually assured destruction of everyone downwind.

The conventional wisdom back then, that our strength was in military superiority, was not only wrong, but stupid.

We’re in a hole of our own making, and best that we figure out it’s worth our while to not only stop digging, but try other means of co-existing.

We’re part of, not apart from, a much bigger world than just within our borders.

Change can happen, but it always happens slowly. Be the one person who is, as Gandhi said, “the change you wish to see.”

* POSTNOTE: On that same farm, in the yard in November, 1957, I and others watched Sputnik as it blinked on and off in the black night ski. In those days, newspapers carried maps of where you could see Sputnik. In my memory (I was 17 then, and a senior in high school), the trajectory was from SSE to NNW, but I could be wrong. Sputnik was a big, big deal. Earlier, in early teen years, Grandpa would rail on about the Communists, who were sort of abstract to me, then, but it fits, now, with my knowledge of the great Red Scare, Sen. Joe McCarthy, HUAC, etc. And earlier still, would be the Flash Gordon novel which somebody had bought sometime, and was pretty ragged, but featured the Ray Gun (early Laser fantasy?), and Flash Gordon’s conflict with the evil ones. I have recently been going through all of the belongings of that old house, and I keep looking for that ragged old Flash Gordon book, but my guess is I won’t find it….

long-time good friend Bruce F responded to my post as follows:

I wonder,Dick, how these rag-tag radical groups in SW Asia can out gun and defeat government armies that we train and supply.

My guess is that in one form or another we supply and train them. In order to be the world’s largest arms dealer, the military industrial machine needs to work both sides to continue to expand profits.

The key word in Bruce’s comment (to me, at least) is the word “we”. Who is “we”? And when?

Otherwise I’d agree with what seems to be the general thrust of Bruce’s comment: the unwieldy entity called the “United States” (primarily we citizens, collectively), have allowed this to evolve.

I doubt ISIS (or ISIL) or the “Caliphate” will have a long life. It will not become a new North Korea.

The regional situation is extraordinarily messy. It is difficult to identify who is “friend” or “enemy” at any particular time. The latest ISIS casualty publicized in this area was a graduate of a local Minneapolis suburban high school in 1990 who embraced a radical philosophy about 10 years ago.

The President of the United States is stuck in a quandary, which delights his enemies. There is nothing he can do which will not be legitimately criticized by someone. The U.S. Congress, which should be making the key decisions per its Constitutional obligation to make policy on War, generally, will continue to escape and evade its responsibility.

But it remains we Americans who through our own lack of engagement have helped create the monster which we now can scarcely understand, and hardly know how to turn around.

#927 – Dick Bernard: Guns and Relationships

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Shortly I leave on yet another trip to the North Dakota farm, continuing the long summer of preparing the place for new occupants. It has been a lot of work, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe this trip, to deal with the last of the scrap metal, and some other miscellany, might take care of at least the physical side of the effort. There remains the emotional: I’ve had far more of an investment in that place than I ever realized, and I knew that farm was important to me, though I never actually lived there. Just occasional visits from childhood on; then a week or so each year helping my Uncle with harvest. It was my hub: the house, the barn, the surrounding fields, the wheat golden when last I left about a week ago, the apple trees (this year very heavy with apples)….

And back home, each box of “junk” from that farm yields some treasure. This Oliver Writer Nr. 3 for instance, one of the first typewriters produced in quantity circa 1902.

(click to enlarge photos)

Oliver Typewriter Model Nr. 3 circa 1902, as it appears August, 2014

Oliver Typewriter Model Nr. 3 circa 1902, as it appears August, 2014

But as I leave this computer screen shortly for the now very familiar trip 310 miles west, my thoughts will be on other things. Past will be prelude: I do not “keep up” with the news on-the-road. What I know now, is what I will know when I resume life back home in a couple of days.

Ferguson MO, and what that all means, will likely be much on my mind. Here’s the last post I received about that terrible situation, 1:43 a.m.

How do I fit in with all that is Ferguson MO right now?

Two weeks ago I stood for near three hours at Somerset School on Dodd Road in nearby Mendota Heights watching hundreds of police cars pass in honor of their fallen comrade, Scott Patrick, who was gunned down by a career criminal, a white guy, who, he said himself, hated cops. That day seems so long ago now.

There are so many thoughts. Here, one guy with a gun, by all appearances an ordinary motorist who’d done something dumb, killed another guy, the policeman, who had no reason to feel he’d have to use his own gun.

The policeman is dead, no worries for him; the killer may have felt some temporary euphoria, but not for long.

What benefit did the gun give the one who used it?

None at all.

Still, we are absolutely awash in weapons in this country. It is our right to be armed and dangerous.

At the farm I’ll visit in a few hours, one of my first acts, when it was clear my uncle wouldn’t be coming back there, was to remove six weapons from the house for safekeeping. These were all routine kinds of hunting weapons, granted, but weapons nonetheless. Attractive targets for thieves.

Nov. 2013, at the farm.  Two other guns, "heritage" types, were elsewhere in the house.  Later I found another gun in the metal shed, and a pistol as well.  All now in safekeeping.

Nov. 2013, at the farm. Two other guns, “heritage” types, were elsewhere in the house. Later I found another gun in the metal shed, and a pistol as well. All now in safekeeping.

Best I can tell, just from the news, guns don’t even benefit those who own and use them for protection, whether “bad” or “good”. The one having the temporary advantage with the gun, isn’t at all advantaged in the longer term.

And then there’s the matter of race in this country of ours. That’s the larger message in Ferguson, just beginning to be discussed, again.

We are, every single one of us, captives of an ancient narrative about race in this country.

At this bucolic farm I’ll visit in a few hours, they once had a favorite horse, a black horse, “Nigger”. This was long before I was born. But long after I was born a favorite Christmas nut was “nigger toes”, brazil nuts.

There was no drama in the use of this term, nigger. But the greater message was the very fact that it was used at all.

And it isn’t about “them”, it’s about every single one of us.

Aunt Edith's flower at the farm, August 10, 2014.  Edith died February 12, 2014, some of her flowers live on.

Aunt Edith’s flower at the farm, August 10, 2014. Edith died February 12, 2014, some of her flowers live on.

#926 – Dick Bernard: The Sea Wing Disaster of July 13, 1890

Monday, August 18th, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-05-16 at 11.37.07 AM

For a number of months, occasional coffee-time conversation with friends David Thofern and Frederick Johnson usually got around to talk about progress on Mr. Johnson’s latest book, “The Sea Wing Disaster. Tragedy on Lake Pepin” (available through Goodhue County Historical Society here with event schedule about the book here). When the book came out, I bought a couple of copies (well worth the cost), and when I learned that the author would be talking about the volume at the Le Duc House in Hastings MN, I put it on the calendar, and last night my spouse and I went for a most fascinating hour presentation.

(click on photos to enlarge; to further enlarge poster beside Johnson, put cursor over the poster and click again.)

Frederick Johnson speaks on the Sea Wing disaster at Le Duc House, Hastings MN, Aug. 17, 2014

Frederick Johnson speaks on the Sea Wing disaster at Le Duc House, Hastings MN, Aug. 17, 2014

Frederick, David, myself, and others of we “regulars” are into bantering, about this and that, and this project was no different.

But the Sea Wing Disaster was no laughing matter. It happened July 13, 1890, in Lake Pepin, the shallow and large wide spot in the Mississippi River below Red Wing MN.

In the early evening of that day, the overloaded small steamer capsized in very strong winds, and 98 of the 215 passengers died. Most were from Red Wing.

It was and remains one of the largest domestic maritime disasters in U.S. History, and one of the very few in which weather was the major causative factor. (Many of the Sea Wing passengers were aboard a barge, lashed to the Sea Wing. All but one of the passengers on the barge survived. The Sea Wing, only 14′ wide and about 100 feet long, was overloaded and no match for the wind induced massive waves. The passengers had hardly a chance.)

The Sea Wing and Barge in tow before the catastrophe...

The Sea Wing and Barge in tow before the catastrophe…

...and after.  Photos courtesy of Goodhue Co. Hist. Soc.

…and after. Photos courtesy of Goodhue Co. Hist. Soc.

In these days of AccuWeather and instantaneous forecasting it is perhaps hard to imagine being surprised by bad weather. People back then, and until very recently, relied on the usual visual signs of bad weather, and they knew what bad weather meant, in general. But this storm was different. Not long before the Sea Wing was struck down, a huge tornado from the same system had hit the Lake Gervais area just north of St. Paul. But this was 1890, and there was no easy way to spread the word about what was lurking not far away. The boat, the captain (who survived) and the passengers had hardly a chance.

Johnson first wrote about the Sea Wing in 1986. At the time he started planning to do an article, but there was so much material that he expanded his work into a book. Fast forward to 2014, and major additions provided by newly discovered material, including from the descendants of the casualties and survivors, gave rise to a much expanded new work. Indeed, even at the August 17 program, members of the audience showed photos of their ancestors who were with that boat the ill-fated day.

In this new edition, Mr. Johnson painstakingly researched both those who died and who survived. Judging from the audience on Sunday night, the new volume will bring forward still more new information retained in family collections for near 125 years.

Take in the presentation if you can (schedule above), and/or buy the book. It is a very interesting look at history.


#925 – Dick Bernard: Leaving Iowa

Sunday, August 17th, 2014

Michelle W., you’ve been promoting Woodbury Community Theatre for a long time, but we’ve yet to “darken the door”. Keep us on the list. Next time we’ll be there.

A week ago I stayed overnight with my sister and brother-in-law in Park Rapids MN. It was a last minute overnight, and they had plans to go to a play in tiny nearby Hubbard, and they scrambled to get one of the few remaining tickets for me.

What a night it was. The tiny Theater was packed; there were more people there, probably, than live in Hubbard. Word had gotten around, and a sold-out house was common.

Community Theater lives!

We saw the comedy “Leaving Iowa” (program here: Leaving Iowa001

Leaving Iowa001

Succinctly, “Leaving Iowa” is in essence about everybody-who-ever-was-in-a-family-who-took-a-car-on-“vacation”. In other words, most of us.

On the back leaf of the program (link above), the director describes one such trip of his own; at the end of this post, I describe one of mine. This is an invitation to remember your own experience(s).

The stereotypical Dad, the guy in charge (or so he thinks) died three years ago, his ashes unceremoniously perched on top of the fuse box in the basement. Most all of the play is in the car with the (really nicely) in-charge Mom; Dad; sis and brother, involved as any sister or brother who’s ever had to tolerate siblings in the confines of a car can relate. (For myself, it was seven of us, five kids, I the oldest, and I was in heaven when I finally got the Drivers License, and “controlled” the steering wheel. My siblings got rid of the pest, (me), of course; you know all the rest of variations of the story from your own memories of growing up, somewhere, and going as a family, some place.)

Part of the story involves the son taking Dad’s ashes to be distributed at some special place, and that is itself a hilarious though one-way conversation. Dad sits there quietly in his urn on the passenger side.

The story ends with son and Dad leaving Iowa for the final resting place at the geographic center of the United States, somewhere in Kansas. That, too, was one of Dad’s “democratically” decided destinations sometimes, and now his final.

The play was a little long, but the acting was delightful and if your town community theatre is looking for a really fun play with great audience appeal, this is one to check out.

(I just did a quick google search, and here are many links to check out, if you wish.)

And I promised my own story….

Back in August of 1978, I decided to take my son and my sisters foster-son Buck on a long trip from Minnesota as far south as Grand Canyon and back. The boys were 14, a good age for a trip like this. We traveled in my 1971 Chevy Van, our “motel” for the trip. We saw wonderful things, like driving to the top of Pike’s Peak; they learned to waterski on Lake Powell, and on and on. Like kids universally, they went where I did.

One memorable day we spent much time at Mesa Verde, CO, doing the tour, seeing the sights.

At night, we chose to stay in Cortez, Colorado, at a KOA. This one had a swimming pool, a heavenly development for the boys.

The next day was planned out. I thought that if we left somewhere about midnight, we could get to Grand Canyon in time to see the sunrise over the canyon.

I looked at the map, and it just happened that down the road about an hour or two was Four Corners, where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico come together.

It was a not to be missed opportunity, and it would be the middle of the night when we passed it, so by the dictatorial powers vested in me, I cut back the swimming time for the boys, so that we could go see Four Corners.

They were not happy campers. But what choice did they have? None.

Off we went, me and two surly boys.

We got to Four Corners late on a hot afternoon and there it was, Four Corners, basically a brass plate in the godforsaken desert without so much as a souvenir stand or a place to buy some refreshments.

But we’d come there, and I insisted that the boys stand by the plaque so I could take the picture.

Somewhere in a box downstairs is that picture, a slide of two glowering kids obviously unhappy to be there. It’s a picture worth a thousand words, for sure!

We had lots of good memories from that trip, but this sour note is the one I choose to remember.

What do you remember?

#924 – Dick Bernard: A wedding: possibly catching a missing piece of history.

Saturday, August 16th, 2014

Since 1980 I’ve become the family historian of both my mother’s and dad’s families. Once hooked, mysteries and secrets are much more interesting than the simple obvious facts.

So, in the history of Mom’s family, her older sister Lucina’s marriage is recorded, but no date. Lucina, always an elegant woman in my memory, never did get around to writing down what must have been abundant memories so, for instance, no wedding date is listed, though I always had heard it was 1939. She would have been 32 then. Their first child was born in 1941.

Lately I’ve been working with musty and dusty materials from the ancestral farm in North Dakota, and today I happened to look at an envelope of photo proofs sent Lucina’s husband Duane on August 11, 1939. Being proofs, the images are near invisible, but oh, what the story.

Here are three photos: one of the envelope and two of its six contents. Click to enlarge.

The wedding party, 1939

The wedding party, 1939

The kiss, 1939

The kiss, 1939

The envelope which held the photo proofs.

The envelope which held the photo proofs.

The proofs, imperfect as they are, since they weren’t intended to last for 75 years, tell their own stories. The best man and maid of honor are faces unknown to me. The bride and groom were, to my knowledge, both teachers in the tiny school in Berlin ND. They likely married in the church almost adjacent to the school, St. John’s of Berlin, and doings afterwards were probably at the Busch farm home less than five miles away.

Pretty obviously, from the envelope, they were married in early August, 1939.

Weddings in those days were generally not high-priced doings. This wedding was during the Great Depression after all.

A few photos likely was about all the couple could afford.

My Mom and Dad – Mom was two years younger than her older sister Lucina – married in the same church two Augusts before Lucina and Duane. Theirs was the first wedding in Ferd and Rosa Busch’s constellation.

Very few photos exist to document their wedding. They were “poor as church mice” then. It was hard times on the prairie.

Till he died, Dad always wondered what happened to the “ricing” photo someone took after the ceremony. I’ve now gone through hundreds of photos from the farm, many from those days, and haven’t found such a picture. Maybe some day….

Lucina and Duane’s marriage lasted over 52 years. They had two children. Duane died first, in 1992, and Lucina lived four years beyond.

Mom and Dad’s marriage lasted 44 years, ended by Mom’s death in 1981. Dad lived to 1997. They had five children.

Time passes on, and what is left is memories, and if we’re lucky some visual representations of happy times past.

#918 – Dick Bernard: The Night of the Big Wind, July 28, 1949

Monday, July 28th, 2014

Directly related post from July 25, here.

For some reason lost to history, on July 28, 1949, we Bernards took a midweek 100 mile trip from Sykeston ND to Grandma and Grandpa Busch’s farm near Berlin ND. While there seems no particular reason for the trip, mid-summer would have been a logical time to visit Mom’s parents, and brother Vince and sister Edithe at the farm. Dad was school superintendent in Sykeston, and at the farm, crops were not yet ready to harvest.

We stayed overnight, a fateful decision we all lived to tell about. (Such trips, to my recollection, were never more than one night. One overnight was complicated enough with five little kids.)

(click on all photos to enlarge them)

F. W. Busch farmstead, 1916.

F. W. Busch farmstead, 1916.

Fitting into the Busch’s small prairie house was no small task. By 1949, a two room addition had been added to the west (left) side of the house shown above.

As bedtime came that evening, best I can piece together, the 9 year old, me, slept with Uncle Vince, 24, in his tiny upstairs room; across the wall to the south, the window visible in the picture, was Edith’s room. Mary Ann, 6, and Florence, 5, slept with her.

Grandma and Grandpa were downstairs, and Mom and Dad, with Frank, 3, and John, who had turned 1 May 25, shared the other downstairs bedroom.

No one has ever recalled anything unusual about the day we were there. It was simply a summer visit.

Crops were maturing, but not yet ready for harvest. As usual, the dozen or so cows had been milked, back out to pasture. Horses would have been in the barn.

Sometime about midnight, best can be figured, a horrific wind seemed to come out of the south. My sister, Flo, described what happened next: “Oh, how I remember that storm! The thunder and lightning was impressive – scary! Then the window blew out and we tried to keep it covered with a blanket.”

We were all terrified, and to my knowledge none of the six adults did the common sense things you’re warned to do today, starting with taking everyone down into the cellar. Of course, back then, weather reports were basically what you saw in real time; no sirens or such. Storms were expected to happen now and again. But, as Uncle Vincent just recalled days ago, ordinary storms usually came in late afternoon, and this one came up suddenly, very late at night, and was a ‘hum-dinger’. Even at 9 years old, I recall sheets of water (it seemed) coming under the window and over the windowsill.

Being a strong Catholic family, there were plenty of “Hail Mary’s”.

The storm passed, no injuries, probably not even livestock, and Mary Ann recalls: “I remember going out at first light and seeing the [barn] roof missing.” That barn was less than a football field length from the house. We’d all had a very close call. Sometimes there’s talk that we experienced a tornado, but I don’t think so. It was just a horrific wind, and life changed for everyone, for a time.

I have found four photos taken of the barn shortly after the storm: Each are worth clicking on, to enlarge.

Busch barn 1949003

Busch barn 1949001

Busch Barn Jul 1949002

Busch Barn Jul 1949003

In the first photo, at left, you can see the damage. What appears to be the barn roof, misplaced, is actually a smaller barn-like structure that survived the storm. In the third, Grandpa Busch contemplates the next steps; in the fourth, the photographer, my Dad, is revealed by the unusually long legs in the shadow. (Click twice on this photo and you’ll see two horses who survived the storm.)

All around the area, there was devastation. The LaMoure Chronicle talked a lot more about the storm and the damage just in the LaMoure County vicinity: Berlin storm Jul 28 49001. The F. W. Busch damage is mentioned in the last column.

This being a working farm, with cows to be milked, there wasn’t time to be depressed. But rebuilding was daunting; there was lots of damage, most everywhere, on surrounding farms.

The adults worked like…farmers…and in fairly short order the task was looking manageable.

Busch barn 1949004

Grandpa was 69 when the storm hit; Vince, his son, was 24; my Dad was 41. The age references are important.

Grandpa knew of a farm on Hwy 13 just east of LaMoure whose barn roof design looked replicable. He built a form on the hayloft floor where the three men nailed four 1x4s together to make every new roof beam. Dad stayed at the farm for some time to help out, and Vince always says that without him, they couldn’t have done the project.

The roof beams were raised, and the local Priest, himself an expert carpenter, saw them, and said they wouldn’t last….

Vincent did the backbreaking work of shingling the barn. It must have been terribly hard, even at age 24, and frightening as well, but you do what you gotta do.

Shortly after the project was completed, within a few months, somebody took the below photo of the newly raised barn roof.

Unfortunately, either they or someone else had forgotten to advance the film, so what you see is a double exposure including other visitors to the farm. Both photos seem to be from the same day.

Front and center is Uncle Vince, in about 1949. (He’s also at left in the same picture. Click on this picture a second time for more enlargement.) The others in the photo are his sister Florence, and her husband Bernard Wieland, and their then young son Tom, all from Dazey ND. Tom is sitting on Busch’s then-new 1948 Plymouth.

Ironically, Tom Wieland died recently. Vincent and I went to his funeral in Valley City. Time passes by.

Busch barn 1949005

Last week, I took a photo of some of the roof beams in the still standing barn. Dad, Vince and Grandpa did damned good work back in 1949!


Lord willing, I’ll be back in that barn today, July 28, 2014, on the 65th anniversary of the big windstorm of 1949. There’ll be a bit of nostalgia, no doubt.

The old barn, July 23, 2014

The old barn, July 23, 2014

A firm base for each beam has helped the roof survive 65 years.  Photo July 28, 2014

A firm base for each beam has helped the roof survive 65 years. Photo July 28, 2014

Henry Bernard with his roof beams in the Busch barn, June 1991.  RIP Nov. 7, 1997

Henry Bernard with his roof beams in the Busch barn, June 1991. RIP Nov. 7, 1997

#916 – Dick Bernard: Some Things. A Bit of Odd Synchronicity; An Opportunity to Reflect.

Friday, July 25th, 2014

(Click all photos to enlarge)

Byerly's Woodbury, formerly known as Rainbow....

Byerly’s Woodbury, formerly known as Rainbow….

A couple of weeks ago I went to our nearby supermarket, Rainbow Foods, to pick up my daily staple: bananas.

This particular day, the store sported a new temporary sign, “Byerly’s”, indicating its new owner. We all knew this was coming: Byerly’s had bought Rainbow and change was coming to our supermarket. It was nothing rocket science: there is another Byerly’s a few miles away. But, still, it was a change. The average shopper might say Byerly’s is better. To me, they’re both generic “stores”.

Walking in, I asked a woman coming from the new Byerly’s: “do they still have bananas?”

She smiled.

Since that day, July 16, I’ve been rather intensely involved with preparing the farm home in North Dakota for potential new occupants.

It’s a very nostalgic time: the home place has been continuously occupied by my Mom’s family since 1905 (she was born there in 1909). Her brother, my Uncle, last in the line, the farmer who kept the place, and never married, is now in the local nursing home.

The re-purposing task has fallen to me, and with lots of help from family and neighbors the long vacant and now near empty farm house has yielded its trash and treasures.

Bananas are a relatively recent fixture on the family table in the U.S.; that rural farmhouse rarely saw them until very recent years.

But there was a big garden, and canned goods.

My sister started cleaning out the shelves of ancient home-canned this-or-that in the basement, and I hauled boxes of them out on Monday.

A jar of something canned by Aunt Edith with the old Pressure Cooker in 1997 (“97″ on the lid) wouldn’t pass muster today, regardless of how well sealed. But that jar stayed in the shelves. Expiration dates had less meaning then.

Pressure Cooker? Here’s one, from the farm scrap pile…probably a perfectly good device, of no use, anymore.

Pressure cookers at the farm (the back one sans lid.

Pressure cookers at the farm (the back one sans lid.

To my knowledge nobody on the farm ever died or got severely ill from food poisoning, folk wisdom, perhaps luck. An iron constitution helped, too.

Back at Byerly’s, today, I was discovering the new store: the only distinction I can discern is that they moved the bananas, and other things. They are reorganizing the placement of the stuff I buy. I’m not sure where anything is. Whole aisles are empty; waiting for redesign. The same stuff I’ve always seen, just in a different place. Change.

At the farm, everything is there, somewhere, but never to be the same again. Change as well.

Down in the basement, Wednesday, sat a forlorn cardboard box with some stuff in it.

I’ve learned in such encounters that just tossing the box and contents is not necessarily wise. You never know what you might be throwing out.

Hidden in the box was the device pictured below (with coins added to give a sense of scale).


If you haven’t guessed, what’s pictured is an old official stamp made of heavy cast iron, built to last.

Being curious, I found an old brown paper bag to see if the stamp still worked and it did.

Stamp 001

You are forgiven if you can’t read the writing. It says “Corporate Seal of the Lakeview Farmers Telephone Company Berlin N Dak”: the telephone company my Grandpa had a great deal to do with for many years in the really olden times of crank dials (“two longs and a short”) and party lines, where “rubber necking” was expected: there were no private conversations. In fact, Uncle Vince just the previous night had been remembering how hard it was to maintain those simple rural telephone lines.

Grandpa had probably used this stamp hundreds of times. Family history.

There were endless other bits of family history, now relegated to trash, or to treasure (the distinction only in the eyes of the beholder; you won’t see the stuff on Antiques Road Show or American Pickers).

Then home to Woodbury to recover.

Today I went back to Byerly’s (aka Rainbow), and once again got my bananas.

What I take for granted in that store was in days of old beyond my ancestors comprehension.

I wonder if, someday, what I take for granted will be an unspeakable luxury for generations yet to follow.

We do take things for granted.

It’s cause for reflection.

F. W. Busch farmstead, 1916.

F. W. Busch farmstead, 1916.

I go back to this old farm on Monday. Before I leave, I’ll publish a recollection from that old farmhouse, of the Big Storm of July 28, 1949.

#912 – Dick Bernard: All-Star Baseball Game Day in Minneapolis

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

UPDATE July 16: Here’s how the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports on All Star Day in Minneapolis.

(click to enlarge)

Champs (see note at end)

Champs (see note at end)

Tonight we experience the All-Star Game in the Twin Cities. About the only advantage we have, here, is that there is more “news” on the local media. A privileged few from all over the country will actually get into Target Field to actually see the game (it is an excellent venue, a short walk to downtown Minneapolis). I would suspect the game will be televised. It is hard to predict whether the game will be good or not…it’s a pickup game for ‘stars’.

No knot-hole gang type need look for reduced price admission today. There are no cheap seats.

Today’s Minneapolis Star Tribune had a good commentary on Baseball All-Star games here, past and present. You can read it here.

There have been three All Star games in the Twin Cities since Major League Baseball came to town in 1961: 1965, 1985 and 2014. (History here).

If our record is any indication, in recent history, an All-Star game follows by a few short years the construction of a new Stadium. So we have a long time to wait before the next extravaganza here. (The football Vikings get the Super Bowl in 2018, a reward for building a brand new Stadium now under construction, or so it would seem….) The “reward” for common people is mostly inconvenience.

I have always liked baseball, though I rarely go to games. Baseball is (in my opinion) a very civilized team sport where the reward goes to the team more so than to the star player.

A friend at the coffee shop, an avid golfer, said this morning that baseball is “boring”. To each his (or her) own, then.

Tonight I might watch part of the All Star spectacle, mostly commercials interrupted by occasional action on the field. In the advertising sense, the All-Star game is a minor league Super Bowl. The sport is secondary.

As for me, I’ll take the part of the baseball game I watched yesterday in Woodbury.

Grandkid Ryan, about to turn 15, is in a summer league of high school age kids who’ve not made the varsity cut, but are still interested in playing baseball.

Yesterday I managed to see a good part of their final game of the season, turned out to be for the league championship, and they won, 5-4.

In the group photo, below, Ryan is kneeling at right.

(click to enlarge)

The League Champs, July 14, 2014

The League Champs, July 14, 2014

Except for Ryan, I don’t know the bios of the players. One of the kids, afterwards, was saying he’s beginning at the University of Minnesota in September. I know another kid, Ryan’s friend, was absent from this game due to illness. They all seemed to be decent, motivated, team-oriented kids.

This bunch started the season as average and ordinary (among their peers), but won their last five, then four straight in the playoffs, earning their trophies.

After the game, one of those old time sayings rattled around in my brain: “it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game”.

It seemed to fit what I had just witnessed.

I decided to seek the quotation out on the internet. Best as I can determine the author was the famous sports-writer Grantland Rice, who had borrowed it from some ancient similar quotation, and first used it about 1927.

These days in our society, everything seems to be about winning. Period.

It’s nice to see some kids just playing the game.

POSTNOTE: There’s some proud parents going with the kids in the photo at the beginning of this post. These 12 year olds from KMS (Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg MN) won a tourney at Chanhassen in late spring. They are a good working group, I’m told.

Teamwork is the essence of positive competition.

#905 – Dick Bernard: Cloud Watching and Some Beautiful Flowers

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

Late yesterday afternoon was beautiful weather for driving, east bound from North Dakota to the Twin Cities.

A brilliant sun was at our back, and all around us were those wonderful puffy cumulus clouds, and farther ahead magnificent “mountain ranges” of white clouds atop rainy weather somewhere to the east. The vista began about Freeport MN, “Lake Wobegon” country, and lasted till we bore south at St. Cloud. I tried to catch the moments in photos, but you know how that is: the best pictures are in the minds-eye, and the scenery, when it comes to clouds, changes by the second. But I did stop once, and below is what I caught in a snapshot – no prize winner, but at least evidence.

(click to enlarge all photos)

Along I-94 after 6 p.m.  in the "Lake Wobegon" neighborhood, June 24, 2013.

Along I-94 after 6 p.m. in the “Lake Wobegon” neighborhood, June 24, 2013.

As I drove, it reminded me of long ago days as a kid in North Dakota, on occasion lying on the grass looking at clouds floating by. Maybe you could imagine something a cloud represented; you got at least a sense of speed and direction and even elevation of the clouds. Of course, this was all abstract to a kid, but nice clouds in combination with a nice day were times and memories to be cherished, if only for a few minutes (till some bug, or another thought or interest, interfered!)

Perhaps the sense of those clouds was heightened by the two days prior when four of us were engaged with doing the necessary things which come with drastic change of life for a relative in a nursing home. Things like attending to beginning to prepare the farm home for hoped for new inhabitants; making arrangements for scrap metal to be hauled, etc.

It wasn’t a neutral activity for me, having spent a lot of time at this farm place over the years, and now the guy in charge of the most major change in the history of this 110 year old farm, owned and occupied continuously by the same family, and now being prepared for new residents, a new life.

This sense of change, more than the work at the farm, contributed to a personal sense of feeling emotionally and physically exhausted this particular day. We had planned to stay one more day at the farm; it would not have been productive for me.

The puffy clouds within my eyesight, coming home, were an occasion of reverie for me, remembering.

I had taken one last photo when I left the farmyard four hours earlier. It is below. At right is the original grain bin built in 1905; in background is the house we had been working on for the last day.

At the farm, June 24, 2014

At the farm, June 24, 2014

Before leaving the property, I noted two voluntary clumps of peonies, festive in bloom beside the house. They were as if in memory of Aunt Edithe, who planted and nurtured them in past years, and who died just months ago. Through them, she lives on.

June 24, 2014

June 24, 2014

At the corner of Highway 13 and the farm road to the ancestral farm I stopped to take my annual photos of the Wild Roses that abound there each summer. The road grader crew needs to know of their existence, and allows them to live on, a vibrant colony.

The wild rose remains the state flower of North Dakota, and here is the one I found most attractive this day.

Wild Rose June 24, 2014

Wild Rose June 24, 2014

The clouds and the flowers: a good reminder to us all. Take time to enjoy the simple things of life. After awhile, it’s all that’s left.


As noted, the sole survivor of the rural North Dakota home now lives in a nursing home. He has always been, and remains, very spiritual.

Recently I came across three family photos that are pertinent to his and the family story. They are below.

The first is of the old Catholic Church and Public High School in the County Seat in which he lives. The current Catholic Church, in the same location as the old, is directly across the street from the old High School, which was replaced by, and for 42 years has been, the Nursing Home, and is now my Uncle’s residence. Most recently Uncle was pushed across the street by myself on Tuesday morning.

early Church and High School in LaMoure ND

early Church and High School in LaMoure ND

From 1915-68 the family Church was about 10 miles west, in tiny Berlin ND. Here are two recently discovered photographs of life in that Church.

A n undated photo from the choir loft of St. Johns in Berlin ND.

A n undated photo from the choir loft of St. Johns in Berlin ND.

Apparently a summer religious education time at St. Johns' during the time when there were lots of kids in the rural area.  The photo is undated.

Apparently a summer religious education time at St. Johns’ during the time when there were lots of kids in the rural area. The photo is undated.

School and church: two of many symbols of community.

#904 – Dick Bernard: Living in Hell.

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A few hours ago we were a pizza party for a friend who just turned 50. It was the usual kind of casual gettogether. Small talk. Catching up with people you haven’t seen for awhile. A cake with two candles: “5” and “0”, singing “Happy Birthday to you….” Each of us at or beyond that age can fill in the blanks of our own similar experience.

It was probably that party that generated the dream that woke me up the middle of this night. The strange dream whose details you can’t remember exactly, but had more than a hint of desperation within it, and caused me, this night, to break out in a sweat right before I woke up, just now.

It was a dream about being unemployed, with less and less hope. A reality about to begin for me 32 years ago this Fall; a reality in which the “50” man has been living for the last 2-3 years, with no active prospects. One day he was working; the next day it was over.

We stood around the birthday cake last evening, sang Happy Birthday and all, but everyone in the room, of adult age, probably were thinking, as I was: where will this hell end for our friend, our relative.

No one really knows.

For me, perhaps for most of us there in that room, there was a sense of hopelessness. I’m 14 years retired and my “linked in” profile is of little use to this 50 year old: even if I had contacts, they are in sectors for which the birthday guy has no qualifications whatever.

It is not quite so simple as “just go get a job”.

By the time you’re in your 40s, in our society, your life course has been pretty well set. You were trained for something, and you did it, and then it ended for one of an endless number of reasons, and there you were, stuck, getting older, unqualified for the available alternatives. So, as with this 50 year old, you need to retrain to do something you haven’t done before, and then begin life again, at 50, in competition with younger people who have better skills (and are cheaper, etc., and can be shaped and molded easier than someone with a particular mindset.)

More than most, in that room last night, I could relate to this guy seeking to start over.

Yesterday, in this space, I wrote of a trip to Quebec with my Dad at age 42 in June, 1982. At that moment in history I was at the end of a sabbatical leave from my career, and I had, literally, “burned out”, ten years into a high stress job. And there were assorted other dynamics intruding on an outwardly successful appearing life.

I was doing well, outside, but not doing so well at all inside. I needed to regroup.

Three months or so later I resigned the job (in the midst of a bad recession), and embarked on 12 months which I have always described, since, as both the best and worst year of my entire life. (I had better years, and I actually had worse, but not occurring at the same time.)

Because I had resigned, there was no unemployment insurance.

I started out pretty optimistic. My Christmas letter for 1982 was not hopeless. It is here, see the last paragraph:Vietnam Mem DC 1982001

Twelve months later, in early September, 1983, I was near desperate. I had been on the Corporate Board for Catholic Charities when my mis-adventure began, watching over programs for the down and out. Here I was, a year later, near down and out, too proud to reach out for welfare or the such.

It was probably old memories of that time that triggered the unpleasant dream just now.

At the end of September, 1983, I was reemployed, back to work in mid-October, and the hell began to end, and life has been very good since.

But I’m not prone to judge what’s going on in the mind of the person down-on-his (or her) -luck for whatever reason. Unemployment is not a soundbite. It is a cruel reality.

I’ve been there, done that.

I wish the new 50 year old my own resurrection, which began in Hibbing MN, mid-October, 1983….

Then, perhaps, it can be a “Happy Birthday”.