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#1087 – Dick Bernard: San Bernardino

Friday, December 4th, 2015

The afternoon of San Bernardino, December 2, 2015, I was in Bloomington MN at Presbyterian Home, visiting my long time friend, Lynn, who had been admitted there the previous day.

It had been a very tough month for Lynn and his family. The previous week, beginning with Thanksgiving evening, when he went into intensive care at a hospital, had been even worse.

Such times are most always uncertain, almost chaotic, even when everyone knows that there is a new and unavoidable “normal” facing them.

So, I passed the word along to friends who knew Lynn, and would want to know his status. The first message from family had the word “hospice” as part of its content; early the next day, Lynn made a remarkable rebound. By Monday, plans were made to move him to the Nursing Home.

Friend Ruhel, owner of the popular Gandhi Mahal restaurant in south Minneapolis, called and asked if he could ride along when I went to visit; another of Lynn and Ruhel’s friends, balladeer Larry Long, called with the same request.

So, about noon on Wednesday, the three of us met at Gandhi Mahal and traveled south to the Nursing Home.

Ruhel brought along some soup and bread for his friend. Larry brought his guitar.

Ruhel, native Bangladeshi, sat in the back seat, Larry in the front, and I drove.

There was some kidding about me “Driving Miss Daisy”….

I think we surprised Lynn when we appeared at his room.

He was especially delighted to see Ruhel and Larry.

As we chatted, Ruhel took out the soup and the bread, and helped feed Lynn, whose limbs are not working the best.

It was a very tender time.

(click photos to enlarge)

Ruhel and Lynn, Dec. 2, 2015, Bloomington MN

Ruhel and Lynn, Dec. 2, 2015, Bloomington MN

Shortly, Larry took out his guitar, and sang Lynn’s favorite anthem, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream”*.

Larry Long and Lynn singing Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream Dec. 2, 105

Larry Long and Lynn singing Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream Dec. 2, 105

I noted that Lynn had a very strong voice when he sang along: much, much stronger and in tune than when I had first heard him sing that song eight years earlier at a meeting. It reminded me of my Uncle singing “Amazing Grace” some months before he died. There was no hesitation in his voice that summer day in LaMoure ND, as if Uncle Vince knew something was on the way for him, shortly.

Another resident came walking past, heard the music, and wondered if there was a program. There was a bit of conversation, among which Lynn revealed that he was a Naval Officer in WWII, and our visitor said he’d been on “mop-up” duty in the Army at the ending period after the deadly Battle of the Bulge.

Larry Long and new friend: "the Battle of the Bulge"

Larry Long and new friend: “the Battle of the Bulge”

As it happened, Larry has been working on an album of military based songs, intended to, as I understand him, help bridge the communications gap between those who think war is the only answer, and those who think peace is the only answer. One of his ballads, a long one, is the words of a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge put to music. So, he sang the song for the veteran and the rest of us. It was a very powerful moment, just four men, together.

Our “audience” headed off to his room, and we drove back to the restaurant, and spent some minutes talking about this and that.

Then we all went home.

My first notice about what had happened in San Bernardino came via the evening news….

I thought back to the American response after 9-11-01.

This time, so far, I’ve noticed a much more muted response by the public, which is, I think, the best measure of reality.

If there is to be peace on earth, indeed, it will have to begin with each of us, maybe with that cup of soup and piece of bread and some music to accompany.

What San Bernardino will represent in days to come is up to us.

All Blessings at this season of peace.

* – Larry and I talked about the Ed McCurdy song, Last Night I had the Strangest Dream. He said the strongest rendition he ever heard was that of Johnny Cash. You can listen to that Johnny Cash version here.

Comments:
from Jeff P: Thanks Dick, the note of the vet from the Battle of the Bulge and the songs reminded me of a childhood memory. I may have been 7 or 8 years old , It was early evening or late afternoon in December (in Upper Michigan in December its dark by 3:30 i think) I was at a neighbor kids home, and the radio was on, we were playing something on the floor in their living room. As it was the Christmas season they were playing Christmas songs, the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” started to play and the radio in the kitchen was switched off or turned to another channel. I think I looked at the other kids, and one of the older daughters said that her father had been in the Battle of the Bulge and could never listen to that song after his experience. He forbade the song in their house and the mother hearing it quickly shut it down.

from Flo: Really appreciated your blog, including having Larry Long as part of your group with Lynn. I’m so glad you could all be together, each sharing what you brought to your relationship together.

#1085 – Dick Bernard: Giving Thanks

Thursday, November 26th, 2015

This is the first year I can recall not purchasing or sending or giving a single Thanksgiving card.

I was thinking about that this morning, then it occurred to me that I was making my judgment about reality based on television news, which has truly become the “daily dismal”, particularly in recent days (not everyone is being attacked or killed or enemies). I need say no more than to ask you to compare the “news” being reported on the media every day against the reality in your own neighborhood and community: the saying: “…difference between night and day” comes to mind.

There is no comparison. The “news” on the news is an aberration.

If I were to make a list of good things that have happened this past year it would be very long. I just wasn’t noticing them.

Most recently, on Monday, grandson Ted, a sophomore, arranged two pieces for his school jazz band. It’s more than simply Grandpa pride that I can already say he’s a gifted musician. Ted is on the vibes, at right.

(click all photos to enlarge)

So St Paul HS Jazz Band, first concert of 2015, Nov 23.  Grandson Ted at right.

So St Paul HS Jazz Band, first concert of 2015, Nov 23. Grandson Ted at right.

I could repeat Ted’s story, in different ways, for the rest of our nine grandkids, at assorted places enroute to or in adulthood. I could fill an entire column with each of their stories, all as unique as each of them.

When the oldest, now 29, was born in August, 1986, I began to introduce myself at assorted meetings as a Grandpa, with my hope to leave a better world behind for her and her contemporaries everywhere in the world. I try to live this dedication. Oftimes I can be discouraged, but this younger generation is more aware than we might think they are, and just waiting for the old folks to step aside.

I think we’ve left them a mess; but they’ll do their best.

Mostly the rest of this post will be 1984 photos of North Dakota sent to me Nov. 22 by good friend, David Thofern, along with this note:

“I thought you might be interested in a few photos from the 1984 Wisconsin to Seattle bike trip that my wife and I did. I’ve always told people that North Dakota was my favorite state to bike through. I never get tired of the prairies and extremely friendly people. We entered North Dakota at Fargo and rode north up Hwy. 38 to Devils Lake where we joined US 2. At that time, US 2 was pretty quiet since most traffic was on I-94. That was before the recent oil boom.

The guy standing in the door of Johnson’s Store was Art Johnson. It was his last day of operating the general store that his dad had operated for many years. Ironically, the store was in Hope, ND. The photo of the rope was the fire escape in our room in Page, ND. We were relieved that no fire broke out during our stay.”

North Dakota 1984 (see Thofern text above)

North Dakota 1984 (see Thofern text above)

"Fire escape" in ND Hotel Room 1984

“Fire escape” in ND Hotel Room 1984

ND 1984

ND 1984

ND 1984

ND 1984

Hwy 2 North Dakota 1984

Hwy 2 North Dakota 1984

ND 1984

ND 1984

ND 1984 Lewis and Clark Highway about 16 miles from Williston ND.

ND 1984 Lewis and Clark Highway about 16 miles from Williston ND.

Williston ND 1984

Williston ND 1984

Those of us of a certain age remember “1984”, George Orwells year….

Will there be tragedies to come? Of course. Most everywhere.

There is reason for optimism for the future – as it will be determined and lived by our kids and grandkids. My guess is that my generation, particularly, will not get high marks from them a few years down the road. We have messes we’ve left behind.

But I am optimistic for the future.

Happy Thanksgiving.

POSTNOTE: I initiated this blog in March, 2009, as “Thoughts Towards a Better World”. It was a hopeful note, then. It is a challenge to try to follow up on this model, but this Thanksgiving is as good a time as any to reaffirm it.

#1083 – Dick Bernard: Let Us All Make A Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Antoine Leiris’ powerful message to the terrorists who killed his wife in Paris, November 13, 2015. As of this morning over 50,000,000 views on Facebook: here

Thursday, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, the November 2015 Program Notes included this Thanksgiving Essay by Dan Chouinard. It is presented here as both pdf ( Dan Chouinard002) and jpeg (below).

(click all photos to enlarge)

Dan Chouinard in Minnesota Orchestra Program Notes for November, 2015

Dan Chouinard in Minnesota Orchestra Program Notes for November, 2015

A friend sent this cartoon later Thursday:

from a friend, November 19, 2015

from a friend, November 19, 2015

Overnight came a capsule of news about the hysteria about Syrian immigrants engulfing the United States, fanned by political rhetoric; and too dangerous for the American media to touch; and too dangerous for we Americans to not confront in as many ways as we can.

In between, a day-filled with American sights which do not fit, at all, the above pictures: flags flying at half-staff to remember the victims of the carnage in France; messages going back and forth to people in other places; lots of silence among people not knowing what to say, if anything.

Still, today, one week after 11-13-15 in Paris, reminds me far too much of one week after 9-11-01 in the United States, a reactive time, manipulating us towards what seems to be never-ending war. I think of that long ago Crisis Sequence sheet someone handed out at a workshop 40 or so years ago, which I still refer to. It fits….

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

Handout from a circa 1972 workshop.

We are said to be a friendly country. I saw many examples of that, just yesterday, and will again, today.

We are a friendly country.

But this isn’t the political and media ‘talk of the town’ this day, one week after Paris 11-13-15. We come across as angry, belligerent, scared to death…..

Who are we, really, we Americans? Those of us who aren’t among the fear and hate-filled – the overwhelming vast majority of us – need to speak out; to give support.

*

Years ago, with family, I visited the Statue of Liberty in New York City. Enroute there, a drive-by of the not yet open Twin Towers on Manhattan.

It was the end of June, 1972.

What has happened to us as a country since 9-11-2001?

Or have we not been honest with ourselves about who we really are, deep down?

Late June, 1972, at the Statue of Liberty.  Photo Dick Bernard

Late June, 1972, at the Statue of Liberty. Photo Dick Bernard

Late June 1972 at Statue of Liberty

Late June 1972 at Statue of Liberty

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)

Our World, Suburban Boston, late June, 1972.  The above photos by Dick Bernard

Our World, Suburban Boston, late June, 1972. The above photos by Dick Bernard

#1075 – Dick Bernard: A Prairie Home Companion comes back home to Anoka.

Friday, October 23rd, 2015

POSTNOTE Oct. 25, 6 a.m.: Here’s last nights program at the Anoka High School Fieldhouse: Prairie Home Anoka001. You can listen to the program here. It was a phenomenal evening. More comments later today.

(click to enlarge photo)

Anoka High School Seventh Avenue Singers with Garrison Keillor October 24, 2015

Anoka High School Seventh Avenue Singers with Garrison Keillor October 24, 2015

*

Tomorrow, tickets in hand, we’re off to see the Prairie Home Companion (PHC) – I’ve had tickets for weeks. This time the show is at Garrison Keillors Alma Mater, Anoka Senior High School, in a town and school community in which I lived and/or worked from 1965-81.

If you can read this, you can listen to the show on Saturday, here, regardless of where you are in the world.

I first happened by PHC in 1977, thanks to my friends Don and Laura. You could walk in off the street then, and find plenty of good seats. Things changed when they went national.

Keillor, of course, plays off the old and familiar of rural America, and Anoka was the big town of his youth, where he went to Junior and Senior High School. That then-small County Seat town, along with the rural precincts between St. John’s University and Freeport along I-94 west of St. Cloud (Lake Woebegone Country) gave Garrison the base for his always rich stories.

Saturday will probably be a particularly rich show.

Though I rarely see or listen to his show these days, I’ve seen it in person at all phases of its evolution, most recently back in January 17, 2015 at the Fitzgerald Theatre, and at the day long celebration of its 40th anniversary at Macalester College in St. Paul in July, 2014. On that particular day I watched the “yarn spinners” do their magic in person, unfortunately without master sound effects man “Jim Ed Poole” (Tom Keith) who died a few years ago. (His replacement, Fred Newman, is right fine, as you’ll hear!)

(click to enlarge)

Garrison and yarn-spinning gang at Macalester College St. Paul July 4, 2014

Garrison and yarn-spinning gang at Macalester College St. Paul July 4, 2014

Fred Newman, July 4, 2014

Fred Newman, July 4, 2014

I was lucky to live and work in Anoka when it was germinating the ideas for part of Garrisons “little town that time forgot but the decades cannot improve”.

When I go out to Anoka on Saturday I’ll be thinking of Ralph’s Grocery along the east bank of the Rum River, which I got to know in the 1960s. Garrison would deny Ralph’s begat Ralph’s Pretty Good…, doubtless, but how else would his “Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery” get its name? There Ralphs sat, just a block or so north of Main Street.

Then there’s Pastor Inkqvist, and Father Emil. They have to be Pastor Hyllengren of Zion Lutheran and Father Murphy of St. Stephen’s; the latter my elderly Parish Priest in the old Church and rectory downtown; both powerhouses in their respective competing religious communities a few blocks apart.

And Anoka was the home of the Pumpkin Bowl, the school football field, and the big Halloween Parade, and the “Tornadoes”. It is most appropriate – planned, doubtless – to have the show in Anoka right at the edge of Halloween.

Back between 1965 and 1981 I either taught, or represented the teachers, in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, already a sprawling school district encompassing thirteen then-largely rural townships. By 1971, Anoka High School had come to be Fred Moore Junior High, when the massive new high school was built north of the tracks. We’ll see the show in the fieldhouse of the now old “new” high school….

Garrison was gone by the time I came to Anoka, but there were a fair number of school teachers who survived and live on in one or another of his phenomenal stories. They were names familiar to me.

I can live those days vicariously now.

But anyone who tunes in can tune in on their own growing up, wherever that happened to be.

Some of the laughter you’ll hear tomorrow night will be my own, and I plan to go decked out in my 40th anniversary Prairie Home Companion T-shirt, and my Powdermilk Biscuits baseball cap (“Has your family tried ’em? Heavens! They’re tasty!”

POSTNOTE:
Is William Keillor Garrison’s root? From the History of Anoka County by Albert Goodrich, 1905
(click to enlarge)

History of Anoka County by Albert Goodrich, 1905

History of Anoka County by Albert Goodrich, 1905

A FEW WORDS AFTER THE SHOW:
Monday, October 26: Since the entire show is accessible on-line (at beginning of this post), the sounds are all there for anyone who’s listening.

I taught in Anoka-Hennepin district from 1965-72, then represented the teachers there, including Anoka Senior High School, from 1972-81, and my son did his Sophomore year there about 1979-80 or so. So I experienced the evening quite intensely. Lyle Bradley and Coach Nelson were very familiar to me. I did get one photo of Lyle Bradley, 90, and still vibrant.

Garrison listens to Lyle Bradley, about this and that....October 24, 2015

Garrison listens to Lyle Bradley, about this and that….October 24, 2015

This was a very personal program for Garrison. That was obvious from the beginning when he came down into the audience and led the few thousand of us in several songs before the show began, including the Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful, as I recall.

There was reverence shown to public schools and teachers, particularly Anoka, his alma mater. I’ve followed Garrison for years, and there were some serious speed bumps a few years ago between himself and public education, but it appeared that was in the past.

His family, his schools, and his community were the relationships that made him what he is today.

I was particularly struck by his reference to growing up autistic. It was an affirmation to any who struggle in any way with autism or its effects.

It was amusing to hear the skit about the Homecoming game between Anoka and Visitation (a Catholic girls high school in St. Paul). Anoka won 6-0, of course, but he softened the edge between zealots for no holds barred competition, and those who emphasize team play and empathy for the underdog. (In the skit, Visitation was the hard-edged competitor, and Anoka the softer feelings oriented team.) It came across especially well, knowing that Anoka-Hennepin has gone through some rough years lately over LGBT issues. There was a “you factions can get along” sense that I was left with.

School people were heavily involved in the program, from kids, to teachers, to the librarian, to the Principal. A school is a social system which, in our society, everyone can enter and have an opportunity to find their muse.

I left renewed and buoyed in lots of ways. When you’re aging, you lose essential touch with the systems of youth. And this show was important for me – though I hasten to acknowledge that we have nine grandkids, and the day after PHC, we went to a wonderful vocal concert in Bloomington which involved two of them, grades eight and ten.

Still, it was great to see the greater community of kids as well.

Thanks, Garrison. You done REALLY good!

#1073 – Dick Bernard: Concert Today in St. Paul, 1 PM: “From Darkness to Light: A Journey Toward Peace & Reconciliation”

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

Peace is possible. Just take a look at St. Paul, Minnesota, and its Sister City, Nagasaki, Japan.

(click to enlarge photo. pdf here: Civic Symphony Oct 18 15002)
Civic Symphony Oct 18 15001

By chance I was at St. Paul’s Landmark Center yesterday, at the same time as the St. Paul Civic Symphony was doing its final rehearsal for this performance.

It will be magnificent. I know. I heard all of it.

After the rehearsal, Music Director Jeffrey Stirling stopped by the Nagasaki-Hiroshima Exhibit (where I was volunteering), and I asked him about the now 60 year Sister City relationship between St. Paul and Nagasaki.

He said that, to his knowledge, the cities relationship, the first for any American city with any city in Asia, was largely brought into existence through the efforts of Louis Hill, Jr., the grandson of railroad magnate James J. Hill.

He didn’t know Mr. Hills specific motivation.

I asked, was there any online history of the forming of the relationship?

Mr. Spirling wasn’t sure, but directed me to the Hills Grotto Foundation. This article, there, doesn’t answer the question, but is nonetheless fascinating reading.

Another link, here, outlines the timeline of the relationship.

The exhibit at which I volunteered continues through Nov. 28 at the northwest corner of Landmark Center, on the Main Floor. At first glance, it appears to be a small exhibit. But one of the visitors there, yesterday, spent the entire time watching/listening to survivor stories on one of four DVD players, and she was engrossed. She was 7 years old at the time of the Atom bomb, she said, knowing of it as we Americans would have known it, through child’s eyes.

Leaving the exhibit, I met a Japanese-American couple, from Minneapolis, who recounted how WWII impacted on their family.

More information on remaining events can be seen here.

#1046 – Dick Bernard: 50 years ago today. A personal memory. Remembering a death.

Friday, July 24th, 2015

(click to enlarge all photos)

At the Busch farm, August 1964.  Barbara at right, Dick next to her.  Grandma and Grandpa Busch at left.

At the Busch farm, August 1964. Barbara at right, Dick next to her. Grandma and Grandpa Busch at left.

Yesterday afternoon, enroute to a meeting, I stopped to take a couple of photos:

3315 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis MN July 23, 2015

3315 University Avenue SE, Minneapolis MN July 23, 2015

University of Minnesota Hospital, Minneapolis, July 23, 2015

University of Minnesota Hospital, Minneapolis, July 23, 2015

Fifty years ago today I lived in a rented upstairs room in this house, just a block from KSTP-TV; and my wife, Barbara, was in the University Hospital less than two miles away, my memory says on 8th floor, in intensive care, .

It had been a very long two months since we arrived in Minneapolis in late May, when Barbara was admitted for a hoped for kidney transplant, her only remaining option to live.

This particular Saturday morning, 50 years ago today, she had fallen into a coma, and at 10:50 p.m. she died. The previous day there had been a brief rally, not uncommon for those critically ill.

Among the whisps of memory was my going to the Western Union office in downtown Minneapolis after she died, sending a telegram to relatives.

Communications was not instant, then. Mine was a very succinct message.

While death is never expected, particularly in one only 22 years old, there really was little hope left: three major operations in two months, no kidney transplant.

July 25, alone, I drove west to Valley City, North Dakota, where the funeral was held on July 29.

In a family history I wrote for our son on his 18th birthday in 1982 I remembered the day of the funeral this way: August 1965001

It was a very lonely time, I have never been able to recall many specifics of particularly the first month after her burial, but life went on for 1 1/2 year old son Tom and I.

It was very early in my life too – I was 25 – and I grew up in a hurry. It has informed my life and my attitudes ever since.

I became very aware of how important and how broad “community” is in society.

There were, out there, among family, friends and many others, people who in diverse ways helped us get through the very hard times. By quirk of fate, the funeral was one day before President Lyndon Johnson signed into federal Law the Medicare Act, societies immense gift to the elderly of this country, one of whom is now me. Here’s Grandpa Busch’s first Medicare card, dated July 1, 1966: Medicare card 1966001

Today in our country we debate whether or not everyone should have a right to medical insurance; whether it is a responsibility of the individual, or of society at large.

Medicare was debated then, too.

It was not on Barbara’s or my radar screen. Debate is a luxury when survival is the only issue.

Our married life was very short, only two years, and almost 100% of the time distracted by the progression of a finally fatal illness. We never really got to know what a “normal” marriage might have looked like.

I think we would have done well together, but that is sheer speculation. The inevitable tensions of a normal marriage were something we were never able to experience.

Three weeks ago I made a visit to Barbara’s grave in Valley City. It is in St. Catherine’s Cemetery, high on a hill just east of town.

June 29, 2015, Valley City ND St Catherine's Cemetery

June 29, 2015, Valley City ND St Catherine’s Cemetery

St. Catherines Cemetery, Valley City ND June 29, 2015

St. Catherines Cemetery, Valley City ND June 29, 2015

Yesterday I went briefly into the University Hospital, including up to the eighth floor, which is now used for other purposes than 50 years ago.

In the lobby area I lingered for a moment by a plaque recognizing the founding of University Hospital in 1916, near 100 years ago.

University of Minnesota Hospital, July 23, 2015

University of Minnesota Hospital, July 23, 2015

Elsewhere, in the medical wing of University Hospital, doubtless were patients for whom yesterday was, or today will be, the last day of their lives.

It is the single immutable fact that we all face: at some point we will exit the stage we call “life”.

Take time to enjoy the trip. The Station001

My public thanks, today, to everyone who helped Tom and I, in any way, back then in 1965, before and after, especially the public welfare system and public and private hospitals.

#1044 – Dick Bernard: The Women in the Yard. Looking for Clara.

Saturday, July 18th, 2015

Thursday I published a piece that included a family photo taken 72 years ago, in the summer of 1943, in rural North Dakota.

Everyone was in that picture, except for the Mom, and I observed that “[t]he entire family is in the photo, save their mother, Clara, who was probably taking the picture”.

The family was not kin of mine, so I didn’t know of them except by name, but they were near neighbors and fellow church members with my grandparents Rosa and Fred Busch.

I would have been three years old when that picture was taken at the nearby farm.

Overnight it occurred to me that in the same batch of photos I’ve been reviewing for a long while now, might be a photo which includes Clara Long*.

It is here:

(click to enlarge)

A gathering of women, labelled Berlin (ND) picnic September 7, 1952.

A gathering of women, labelled Berlin (ND) picnic September 7, 1952.

There seem to be 24 women in this picture, plus one youngun’. My Grandma Busch is directly behind the little kid. Aunt Edith, my Aunt and her daughter, is in the back row at far right, it appears. This picture was in the yard of the Busch farmhouse, where pictures were traditionally taken when people came to visit. The photo was unusual size, about 2×2″, so probably taken with someone other than Grandpa’s camera.

Most likely it is the women of St. John’ Catholic Church in Berlin, both social and service, as typical in churches then and still.

Such a photo truly speaks “a thousand words”…indeed many more.

Perhaps Chistina, the sister-in-law of Clara, who e-mailed to comment on the earlier photo, will remember Clara, and see other women of the town she recognizes.

It occurs to me, now many years later, that these women represented the life of that, and every, community in more ways than one.

Grandma, just as a single instance, birthed nine children in the house that you cannot see, just to the photographers left. By September, 1952, she and he husband Fred had been married 47 years, and their youngest child, Vincent, was 27.

Likely all those women are gone now, but what a legacy they no doubt left behind.

Here’s to the ordinary women and men who brought this world to life, one person at a time!

Thank you.

* – I was incorrect. According to a family member, Clara had died when the youngest was two years old. The photographer was likely the second wife.

#1041 – Dick Bernard: “God Bless America”

Saturday, July 4th, 2015

“God bless America,
Land that I love.
Stand beside her, and guide her,
Thru the night, with a light from above….”

Thus Irving Berlin wrote, in 1918, the song that has become an anthem of the United States.

“…From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.
God bless America,
My home sweet home.”

Today is the 4th of July, the day of celebrating culminated by “bombs bursting in air”, as we will be reminded this evening by formal fireworks displays, and have already been reminded by early informal fireworks displays in neighborhoods.

“The Fourth” has a very long tradition. Here’s a photo of a baseball game from the 4th of July, 1924, at the Grand Rapids ND Veterans Memorial Park; one of the hundreds of photos found at the North Dakota farm I’ve so often written about in this space.

(click to enlarge)

Grand Rapids ND July 4, 1924

Grand Rapids ND July 4, 1924

I wasn’t around in 1924, but I’ve been to several July 4ths since 1940 at that very Grand Rapids park, and my memories are of similar rituals each time we went: the baseball game, fishing in the James River, adult games like horseshoes for the old guys (probably about in their 50s – time changes perceptions!), picnic lunches, lots of visiting…. A simple and nostalgic time, for sure. Elements of the old tradition remain, of course. But celebrating July 4 has changed in a great many ways as we’ve become a mobile and very prosperous society.

For me, the title of this blog comes from a particular use of the phrase “God Bless America” which I saw last Monday afternoon as I checked into a motel in Bismarck ND.

Bismarck ND June 30, 2015

Bismarck ND June 30, 2015

When I saw this truck last Monday, emblazoned also with “Support our Troops” on the back panel, I didn’t pick up gentle vibes.

There was less a “stand beside her and guide her” request, as there was a martial aspect to all of this, a demand: as it were, “God, bless us, as we command a subordinate world”. This ever more a dicey proposition; a fantasy. We still like to think we’re superior, among less than equals….

My perception on Monday was helped along by a large picture I’d seen two days earlier, of an American military man, one of those surreal “Transformer characters”, a less than human appearing being, a collection of technology and weaponry we see every time our contemporary GI’s are shown in a combat setting somewhere. Not really human appearing, as faced by a known enemy human in World War I or World War II, though similarly vulnerable.

Intimidating, but not.

We look tougher than we are.

But we like the omnipotence message conveyed by that truck in Bismarck earlier this week. The day before, a gigantic black Hummer vehicle passed me by, doubtless driven by some prosperous local citizen, perhaps even a lady. I remember when the Hummers became popular for those who could afford them, during the Iraq war. They’re seen less often now than they were then, there never were very many. But to me they always conveyed an in-your-face-message of omnipotence: “Look at me. Don’t mess with me….” A martial, war, message.

1924 was part of a rare interval between wars for the United States. We even tried to outlaw war with the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The time since WWII began for us in 1941 has seen only a single year without some war or another (see America at War001.

Our 4th will be a quiet one today, after a tiring week on the road. Tonights fireworks may wake me up, though usually they don’t.

But I’ll mostly think of that 4th of July I attended once in awhile at the Grand Rapids Memorial Park: catching a bullhead or two, probably some ice cream, some kid games….

A time of enjoyment and rest.

Have a great day.

God bless us all, everywhere.

An in-your-face "American" wears his patriotic jacket in rural Finland, June, 2003, weeks after the Iraq War began, and George W. Busch had just visited St. Petersburg.  Photograph by Dick Bernard

An in-your-face “American” wears his patriotic jacket in rural Finland, June, 2003, weeks after the Iraq War began, and George W. Busch had just visited St. Petersburg. Photograph by Dick Bernard

#1038 – Dick Bernard: The Barn Roof

Sunday, June 21st, 2015

PRE-NOTE: I’ve added to the beginning of yesterdays post material from Basilica of St. Mary today regarding the change in Bishops in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis. I have also included a link to Pope Francis recent encyclical on “Care for Our Common Home” (the earth).

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(click to enlarge photos)

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

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

This is the first year ever, in my memory, where I have mailed no Father’s Day best wishes.

I know lots of fathers, including myself. It’s nothing personal. This year, no cards.

My biological Dad died in November 7, 1997, at 89. He was a powerful and positive force in my life. In a real sense, my surrogate Dad, later, never married nor had any children of his own: this was my Uncle Vincent, who died at 90 on February 2, 2015. Vince and I spent a lot of time together, though as I said at the lunch after his funeral, neither one of us were much for talking, and my efforts to record the essence of his thoughts driving between LaMoure and the farm proved fruitless: it was minutes of dead air, with an occasional staccato comment on somebodies field, or a bird in the air. In a real sense he and I were peas in a pod. Now I’m dealing with the end of life issues for him. It is an honor.

Vince’s Dad, my Grandpa Ferd, was another crucial actor. He was 60 or so when I was born, so, while he lived until I was 27, he was always a somewhat ancient personage to me.

Dad and Vince and my life intersected directly and pretty dramatically at one point in my life, which comes to mind on this Father’s Day.

It was the end of July, 1949. I was 9, and we were at the farm, and had gone to bed, only to be awakened by a horrific south wind with very heavy rain. My particular memory was of water gushing in through the window sill. For the adults there was a whole lot of praying going on. Oddly, we stayed upstairs the entire time.

The next memory was the following morning, and when we went outside, the barn roof was no longer on the nearby barn, scattered to the north and east.

My memories are, of course, of a nine year old.

For the adults, it was a time of crisis.

There were cows to milk, and they could be milked, but the roof needed to be rebuilt.

Dad, 42 and a schoolteacher, was still on summer break and could stay and help. Vincent was 24 and, by then, basically the person who did the farming.

Grandpa, I learned years later, scouted the neighborhood and saw a barn with roof-beam pattern he liked, and made a form on the haymow floor, and the men hand-constructed each and every roof beam, then raised the roof, and construction proceeded.

The barn roof beams July 2014

The barn roof beams July 2014

My personal narrative does not include neighbors, etc., but I’m sure they were involved as well. But there was a great deal of damage in the surrounding area from the same storm, and I’m sure Uncle Vincent bore the brunt of the heavy-lifting later, including shingling the structure, which had to be a terrifying task.

These days, 66 years after that summer storm in 1949, the barn still stands, much the worse for wear.

I’ve often said that the barn roof is holding up the 1915 main floor, rather than the other way around, and each time I see that structure, however decrepit it has become, I see a joint effort of family and in particular of men in the summer of 1949.

Nobody’s talked about it much.

Nobody has to.

Happy Father’s Day, everyone.

An inadvertent double exposure, 1949, Uncle Vince appears twice, at left and in center, with his sister, Florence Wieland, her husband Bernard, and son Tom and duaghter Mary.  All in the photo, save Mary, are deceased.

An inadvertent double exposure, 1949, Uncle Vince appears twice, at left and in center, with his sister, Florence Wieland, her husband Bernard, and son Tom and duaghter Mary. All in the photo, save Mary, are deceased.

In the hay mow, May 23, 2015

In the hay mow, May 23, 2015

Henry Bernard in the hay mow June, 1991

Henry Bernard in the hay mow June, 1991

#1033 – Dick Bernard: The Great Olden Days of the 1950s

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

A couple of days ago a friend sent me this forward.

It is an intriguing piece of video, especially for someone like me who was 10 in 1950 and 20 in 1960. It only takes two minutes to view. Take a look and return.

There is, of course, lots to agree with, especially if you lived through childhood and adolescence then. (I’m fond of saying that the real proof that there is a God, is any kid who survives childhood. I can tell my stories; you can as well….)

At about the same time the video crossed my threshold, so did the below 2×2 well worn time-damaged photo labelled “Berlin [ND] Picnic Sept 7 1952”. The handwriting is unmistakably my grandmother Rosa Busch (who is at left in second row behind the little child and, likely, the childs mother.) I have scanned the photo at high resolution so as to make it possible to easily enlarge it. Most likely, given the nature of that day, this is the Ladies Aid (or Rosary Society?) of St. John’s Catholic Church in Berlin.

Take a look at those Moms, in my Grandmas yard, September 7, 1952. Their’s are the faces of the good old days.

Berlin Picnic Sept 7, 1952

Berlin Picnic Sept 7, 1952

I took a look at mortality statistics for our country – sort of the marker for how it was, and how it is. Here are a couple of items worth looking at:
(1) a chart about developed world life expectancy at birth from 1950-present is in the upper right hand corner, here. (click on the chart to enlarge it) NOTE: the projection to the end of this chart is to 2045; notice the point on the chart for 2010-15.
(2) 75 Years of Mortality in the United States 1935-2010 from the Centers for Disease Control.

It would seem to me that a 12 year increase in average life expectancy from about 66 to 78 years over 65 years of history (first chart) is pretty significant.

Maybe there were some down sides to the good old days?

But maybe we prefer looking at the up-side of some of those changes which the video narrates?

Start with the photo of those women. In 1952, the status of “women’s rights” was much different than it is today.

Change didn’t come easy, but it came.

As for surviving, I’m one of those who lucked out, who made it through the assorted risks of growing up. There were far more risks then, I know. No seat belts in cars; you took your chances with drinking water and home-canned food. Who of my age does not recall the lines to get the Salk Polio Vaccine back in those early 1950s?

And the bomb shelters which reminded us that we were in some bulls eye for one of those Soviet bombs aimed at us (and we aimed our own bombs at them, I guess).

I watched Sputnik blink across the night sky at exactly the same spot as the photographer in the same yard of my Grandmas in the Fall of 1957. In those days, Sputniks path across the night sky was printed in the newspaper (it would have been to the photographers right, to the southeast), and on a clear night, as the saying goes, you could see forever, especially on the pristine prairie “back in the day”.

Now, I’m at the age where nostalgia tends easily to trump reality: it is fun to look back in memory to how it used to be (I think).

But not so fast: I see Johnny, in my North Dakota town when I was 10. In today’s terms he’d be so-called severely retarded. He lived at home, and he was older than we kids who used to persecute him till he’d chase us down the street with a bat, or a stick, or whatever. I was not “happy days” for Johnny (who’s still alive, I hear.)

In many ways we’ve over-corrected, I admit, but by and large I’d rather be where I am, now, than back in those olden days.

COMMENTS:
from Joyce, June 3:
Whenever someone waxes nostalgic about the good old days, I think about the plight of those for whom the ’50s were a horror show, in particular, African Americans, but also intelligent women who had few outlets for their intelligence, Jews (universities openly had Jewish quotas in those days and HR departments displayed signs stating that Jews need not apply) and all the people whose careers were destroyed by the McCarthy witch hunts.

from Flo: Thanks for bringing some reality to the good old days! Some kids who were tortured by parents, siblings, or bullies are the angry ones now torturing all of us in retribution!