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#990 – Dick Bernard: A Reflective Time

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

(click to enlarge)

Feb. 5, 2015, Room 111 at St. Rose

Feb. 5, 2015, Room 111 at St. Rose

Uncle Vincent died Monday evening February 2. I wrote briefly about his death here. His funeral is on Tuesday in Lamoure. Details are here. The photo used there is one I took of him almost exactly a year ago at his sister, Edithe’s, funeral on Feb. 15, 2014. The one that people will see in the folder at the funeral Mass on Tuesday is of he and Edithe Oct. 25, 2013, couple of weeks before he joined her in the Nursing Home; and 3 1/2 months before she died. (That photo is at the end of this post.)

They lived together on the home farm for all but the last few years of their entire life. Nine children were born and raised there, and Vincent is the end of the line for “the Busch place” of Berlin ND. So is how it goes. There are lots of nephews and nieces, but we live all over creation.

There will be stories of course, some told on Tuesday. Others in other conversations.

My sister Mary and I went to clean out Vincent’s room last Thursday, reducing all of the possessions to a large box and some garbage bags. St. Rose provided a handcart to remove the possessions and as I was making my second and final trip a couple of staff opened the door for me: “Isn’t this as it always is: an entire life reduced to a few garbage bags….”

They see this trip quite often, of course. In one way or another, for all of us, it is the same. What we struggled for in this temporal life suddenly becomes irrelevant to us.

One of the possessions in the room was Vincent’s desk (pictured above), which I kept “off limits” till he died. It was important to him. It yielded an immense amount of stuff, which I have now been going through, piece by piece, to be sure that something of importance is not in hiding there. There are the usual questions, of course: “Why in the world did he keep THAT?” “Why is that pliers in here?” “Should I keep that 1987 fishing license?” And on and on.

Then there’s other stuff: an official document of a report on a U.S. Patent received by my grandfather Ferdinand Busch in 1925 for a “fuel economizer”. I knew Grandpa had a couple of Patents, in the 1950s, but had never heard of this one. It’s Number 1,541,684 if you’re interested. It expired in 1942, and already in 1925 many similar devices were being invented, so don’t presume you’ll get rich on it!

That this treasure appeared was not too much of a surprise. This desk had been Grandpa’s before, and had a very long history, perhaps going back to he and Rosa’s arrival on the ND prairie in 1905.

A folded and brittle piece of paper appeared in the pile of flotsam from the desk. It was from 1915 – 100 years ago – and was a detailed report on fundraising for the new St. John’s Church in Berlin (which closed in 1968). It was a single page listing of who contributed what to the construction of the church, and it appears from the pattern of contributions that the church was paid for in cash, $3,419.85. You can see the sheet here: Berlin St. Johns 1915001. It’s an important part of local history, perhaps inadvertently saved, but saved nonetheless.

Before we took down the pictures on Vince’s walls, I took photos (of the desk, and the other walls). Now, those things on Vince’s wall deserve the attention. What you see there is what was important to him….

On the way out of town, we stopped at the gas station and Mary Ann overheard an older guy (probably my age) talking to some of his buddies in a booth. They had seen the on-line obit, and he said: “I didn’t think Vince was that old.”

Maybe they’ll be at the funeral on Tuesday.

Vincent and Edithe and all of the family from rural Berlin are at peace.

For the rest of us, live well, but don’t forget the garbage bags who somebody will use when it’s your turn!

Feb 5, 2015 Rm 111 St Rose

Feb 5, 2015 Rm 111 St Rose

Feb 5, 2015, Rm 111 St Rose

Feb 5, 2015, Rm 111 St Rose

Vincent and Edithe, October 25, 2013.

Vincent and Edithe, October 25, 2013.

from Annelee, Feb 8:
I just read “MY Uncle Vince”you revealed much of the love you had for him — it touched me deeply.

The photos also gave me a glimpse of what kind of man Uncle Vince was. Warm and honoring the past, but living in the present.

When you wrote about the garbage bag — being part of the end of one’s life —that is only part of what happens.

I will always remember (until I die) what my papa said to me as we hugged for the final time before he left.

As he turned away and left I called out, “Papa, Papa, please don’t leave me just yet!”

I still can remember him standing there, he looked at me with so much love and he said, “Anneliese, I will never leave you.”

“But Papa”, —-

“Anneliese” he broke in, “ you will remember what I said and you will do things like I taught you. You see, I will be with you more than you know.”

He kicked a solitary tree trunk and walked away without looking back.

He was mot even 41, he is gone for more than seven decades. But I still remember these words, —

I taught much to my children of what he taught me. I told them about Papa —what I remembered.

So you see, Papa and all he owned is gone —but he is still with me in memories — and he will be with Roy [my son] because I tried to instill
the values my Papa taught me—in him.

Love and blessings Annelee

response from Dick: Annelee is our dear friend who I’ve known since 2003 when I learned of her book, War Child. Growing Up in Adolf Hitler’s Germany.

Her Dad and Mom refused to be part of the Nazis and as a result, he was drafted into the military engineers, and after the last visit home she describes above, her Dad went with the Germans into Russia and was never heard from again. They believe he died somewhere in Russia, but are not sure.

She will be speaking several times in the Twin Cities this spring, the next on March 8 at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum in Minneapolis.

#989 – Dick Bernard: Uncle Vince

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015

A few hours ago the phone rang here at home.

The call was from St. Rose Nursing Home in Lamoure, ND. The message very simple: my Uncle Vincent died a few minutes earlier, at 7:15 p.m., CST, February 2, 2015.

Thence began the task shared by thousands of others yesterday: passing the word.

There is no need for details now. Those can come later.

Uncle Vince was unique, as is every single person who dies anywhere, for any reason.

The ritual and the eulogy will come later.

For now, here and here are a couple of collections of statistics on U.S. and World Deaths.

Uncle Vince is at peace.

Vince loved singing. The last song he heard, I hear, was the Nursing Home Chaplain’s rendition of “Amazing Grace“, sung by his bed, in his room.

I’m pretty sure that, for Vince, there could be no better concert, ever.

Take your pick from many renditions of Amazing Grace, here.

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Vincent and Edithe, October 25, 2013.  Edithe was Vince's older sister, and died almost exactly a year ago, February 12, 2014, just two doors down from where her brother died Feb. 2, 2015

Vincent and Edithe, October 25, 2013. Edithe was Vince’s older sister, and died almost exactly a year ago, February 12, 2014, just two doors down from where her brother died Feb. 2, 2015

#985 – Dick Bernard: Ernie Banks. Remembering a Boyhood Trip to Chicago, and seeing the Cubs

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

I’m an early riser, and todays NYTimes headline on the computer screen said, simply, “Ernie Banks, the eternally hopeful Mr. Cub, dies at 83″. That would be the Chicago Cubs, the first and and for many years the only host Major League baseball team I ever watched in person, at Wrigley Field, Chicago, in the mid-1950s. Here’s the news conveyed by the Chicago Cubs organization; here’s this mornings Chicago Tribune top story.

Mr. Banks played with the Chicago Cubs beginning in the 1954 season. He was 23, the shortstop.

I likely saw Ernie Banks twice, in the summer of 1955; then again in 1956. Those were in my teenage years, and we were living in the country, Antelope Township, about 20 miles west of Wahpeton ND. Both times we went to visit my Uncle and Aunt, Art and Eileen Busch, in Broadview IL; and both years we went to see the Cubs, because they happened to be in town.

It is possible to more or less fix the dates in history because we didn’t make 600 mile trips as a matter of routine in those days. This was before freeways, and there were five of we kids to pile into our 1951 dowdy gray Plymouth Suburban. No air conditioning, or seat belts or such. There is a photo, apparently taken on the trip by myself (I wasn’t in the picture) at the Rum River Park in Anoka; another on the Busch’s suburban lawn.

Bernards, Summer 1956, at Anoka MN roadside park

Bernards, Summer 1956, at Anoka MN roadside park

Here’s a photo of myself with my brother, Frank, taken in the general time period.

Frank and Dick Bernard, Antelope ND, 1955

Frank and Dick Bernard, Antelope ND, 1955

The only physical memory I have, other than the games at Wrigley, was the interminable drive through Wisconsin to Illinois, heavy traffic, long very slow lines of traffic behind semi-trucks creeping up the seeming “everlasting hills” on two lane U.S. 12. We stopped for cheese somewhere, and my love affair with Colby Cheese began that day, somewhere in Wisconsin.

Both trips were a very big deal for my parents, especially my Mom. Her brother, my Uncle Art, was a young electrical engineer for General Electric (GE), and after he married Aunt Eileen in January, 1955, they moved to Broadview in the Chicago area. He lived and worked in the Chicago area for the rest of his career. A year and a half later their first child, John, was born, and we made the second trip back to Broadview.

By then, I was involved in sports, such as one could be in tiny rural environments, and I fantasized about Mickey Mantle, who was making news with the New York Yankees.

We didn’t have TV, then, so my fantasies came from radio broadcasts, and I could play them out by trying to hit baseballs over the trees at the edge of our yard (don’t recall ever succeeding at that, but I well occupied much time trying!)

Then we were in Chicago, the BIG city. And when company comes to town, part of the obligation is to entertain them.

It happened, both years, that the Cubs were in town and scheduled; the White Sox were on the road. So the decision made by my Uncle was very simple: it was to be Wrigley Field and the Cubs that we’d see.

My memory is that we sat in the first base line stands both years – perhaps a GE block – and the weather was nice. I know that the Cubs opponent one of the years was the New York Giants, the other year the Pittsburgh Pirates, and at the time, the teams were 7th and 8th (8th was last) in the standings.

No matter, this was the Big Leagues.

Of course, these were day games. Wrigley Field didn’t have lights, then (and still?) unique in that respect.

I have no specific memories of who won or lost those games, or of any particular player, or spectacular play.

With no question, Ernie Banks was shortstop at both games, but he was, like me, a new kid on the block.

But I can say they were memorable days for this North Dakota kid.

Those were simple days, at least they seemed so.

Mom and Dad have long ago passed on, as have Art and Eileen. Mom’s last surviving sibling, my Uncle Vince, who grew up sharing his bed with his kid brother Art, is well along in his last mile of life out on the North Dakota prairie; I last saw Vince on Thursday.

For everyone there is a season….

Thanks for the memories.

#984 – Dick Bernard: Carpet Bowling and Marshmallow Toss

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

Wednesday afternoon I made a trip up to ND relating to my Uncle, who’s in a Nursing Home in a small town, and has recently been enrolled in the Hospice Program. The trips are frequent, tiring, but always necessary.

Usually I leave in early morning. This day I was scheduled for something called Carpet Bowling with my second grade Pal at his elementary school. It was only a half hour, then I’d be on my way. I wasn’t sure what it was till it began.

Think “real” bowling, and you get a notion of Carpet Bowling. A regulation sized bowling ball is used, but this one was second grade weight. The pins were regulation size as well, but very light.

One class was involved, with their “pals”, one of which was me. There were four lanes, and we took turns. It was all very well organized. (My one turn, I got nine pins the first throw, and a spare!)

Teachers work magic with youngsters, and the supervisor of this activity was no exception. Everybody shared, and we all had a good time. At the end of the half hour, the teacher asked we Pals if any of us had ever worked setting pins, and a couple had, and described what they did in the old days, and how much they were paid.

It was fun!

Then I got on the road for the usual 5 1/2 hours, and for the next 18 hours was dealing with stuff that needed to be dealt with, including time with my Uncle.

The last activity of the day was a conference with the nursing and hospice staff.

It was scheduled for three o’clock, and I had to wait for another conference to include.

I was just outside the day room of the Nursing Home, and elders were seated in an oval, and a lady was preparing for an activity, described on the Activities Board as “Marshmallow Toss”, or similar wording.

It was a simple activity: the coordinator had five squashed marshmallows that had hardened. Of course, they were very light.

There were two small plastic pans that were the targets, one perhaps a foot or two away; the second a tiny bit further.

Each person had their turn: the objective was to toss the marshmallow into the container. For most of us, the simplest of tasks, but when you’re very old, and sometimes very disabled, even something easy becomes a challenge.

One guy got them all, easily; a lady next to him barely could get a single marshmallow in the closest container.

No matter, both had their turn, and a small opportunity to, like the children a day earlier, try to achieve a certain goal.

There were no winners either day; every one participated equally, and supported for what they had done.

I left for the 5 1/2 hours back home, with lots of time to think.

The proximity of the activities, just a day, but 300 miles, apart, was striking to me.

Long ago, these elders trying to toss marshmallows had been in the second grade somewhere, doing something like the carpet bowling activity.

There was perhaps 80 years difference in average experience between them, and for the elders, many peaks and valleys in between, that the youngers have yet to experience.

My Uncle, strong as a horse 10 years ago, is now essentially bedridden, extremely frustrating to him as life winds down.

For each of us, we’re in our own place, on the same path as those elders tossing marshmallows at the nursing home on Thursday.

Enjoy the trip, whatever you have left.

#982 – Dick Bernard: A Prairie Home Companion

Saturday, January 17th, 2015

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Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

Garrison Keillor, Jan 17, 2015

It had been a long time since I last actually attended a performance of Garrison Keillor‘s long-running “A Prairie Home Companion“. Tonight was the night, and a wonderful night it was, with a distinctly blue grass tilt, featuring the Gibson Brothers, Heather Masse, (one of the very popular Wailin’ Jennys), and last, but certainly not least, Joe Newberry.

Here is the program booklet for tonights show, the 1,414th in a series that began in 1974: A Prairie Home Companion001. (The program is rebroadcast nationally from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. the Sunday following the show. Check here for details.)

I first saw PHC in 1977, the year before the show moved to its long-standing venue, now the Fitzgerald, but for most of its life going under the name World Theatre of St. Paul.

In 1978, the show moved into the ancient World Theatre, and Garrison mused about that move in a story. Among other fascinating facts, PHC music director Rich Dworsky’s father owned the World Theatre at the time PHC moved in, and the first rent was $80 per weekend. I attended some early shows there, and the theatre was down in its heels at the time. Of course, today it is an elegant venue.

My son-in-law, who came along and greatly enjoyed the program, observed that there were many of we gray-hairs in the audience, and of course that is true. Garrison, who would have been about 32 when the first show went on the air, is now 40 years older, as are great numbers of his early fans. Indeed, centerpiece of the stage set (see photos) is the facade of an old country farm house (on whose porch about a half dozen audience members sat to watch the program last night.

At some point Garrison (and all of us) will move on, and one can only hope that there will be a viable alternative to carry on the tradition of remembering the olden days before things like Facebook and other forms of instant communication and gratification.

My personal tastes in music have always been quite varied, and tonight was the night for some distinctive sounds, primarily of the bluegrass family. It was a very fun evening, added to by the fact that there was a post-show second concert featuring the above musicians and, of course, Garrison Keillor himself.

In the bonus post-show show, “January Jump Start”, I had the opportunity to take a few snapshots, just to give a little life to the performers for the evening. Otherwise, very often YouTube has video of the various performers in action.

They’re all worth a look and listen!

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Heather Masse and Garrison Keillor Jan 17, 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

Joe Newberry (guitar) with Richard Kriehn Jan 17 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015

The Gibson Brothers (3rd and 4th from left) with Joe Newberry and ensemble Jan 17, 2015


Between PHC and the bonus “January Jump Start” we walked the couple of blocks to St. Pauls iconic Mickey’s Diner for a quick bite.

Mickey’s never surprises. Donny had a piece of pie and coffee; for me, a side of O’Brian’s Potatoes and a coke.

Mickey’s is a direct kind of place: we had to stand and wait our turn for a seat at the counter, just across from the grill. The place was busy but well organized, and the cook and server were friendly and efficient.

Mickey’s is, as their sign says, “24/7″, and the reward for good behavior is being served.

It was a show in itself…and the food was very good!

Cookin' at Mickey's Diner, St. Paul

Cookin’ at Mickey’s Diner, St. Paul


#978 – Dick Bernard: A Teacher and a Butterfly

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Life takes it own course, and in our often too-frantic lives, we miss the gentle things that really make a difference.

So it happened, yesterday, that I had to leave, early, the funeral of a retired educator to attend to an equally important duty: taking 10-year old granddaughter, Addy, to the soon-to-end (Jan 8) Monarch Butterfly film and Exhibit at the Science Museum of Minnesota. (If you’re in the area, carve out the time for the program: it is well worth it….)

Marty Wicks, the retired educator whose life was celebrated yesterday, was a lifelong public educator. Her life is summarized here (4 pages): Marty Wicks001. She accomplished much.

I come from a family filled with public educators. That was also my background and career, and I think most in the education profession, including Marty, would agree that “lifelong educators”, especially in public education, early on realize that miracles can and do happen on their watch, but often these happen without their direct knowledge, and ofttimes many years later.

Marty’s brother-in-law, in a tribute to her, gave a personal example of how she, as his sister-in-law, was a powerful teacher to him, personally.

She made a positive difference, the best any of us can hope for.

Funeral over, and before the lunch, I had to make a rapid departure to pick up my granddaughter for our “date” with the butterflies at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

We had tickets for the 1:00 showing at the Omnimax, and like the rest of the packed house we sat transfixed as the remarkable story of Canadian researcher Dr. Fred Urquhart’s near lifelong quest to track the Monarch Butterfly migratory pattern came to life. Part of his incredible story can be read here.

Central to the story is Monarch PS397, tagged by some west suburban Minneapolis students in August, 1975, and remarkably discovered by Dr. Urquhart in Michoacan Mexico four months later, literally minutes after he began his first visit to the Monarch sanctuary, 2000 miles from where PS397 had begun its journey.

The two events: a funeral for an educator; and the central role educators played in one of the most remarkable stories of tracking a migration of an insect, thereby contributing to human knowledge, came together for me on Saturday afternoon.

Film over, Addy and I then went to the Butterfly Exhibit at the Science Museum where adults, kids and butterflies mingled happily in a summer-like environment (perhaps this doesn’t include the little tike whose nose became home base for a friendly butterfly, stopping by to visit!) It was warm in there: tip, if you go there, leave coats behind!

The Exhibit and the Film are at the end of their run here, but there are still a few days; and doubtless you can probably catch them somewhere else. Here’s the website for the film.

There is much more to be said, but more words from me are superfluous.

At the end of the day, I thought of a snapshot I took in November, 1999, North Dakota (below). It has always symbolized for me the entirety of relationships (the tree) and how individuals can shine like the sun, at a particular time for a particular person or persons. Like ourselves and the Butterflies, yesterday, we coexist together.

For certain, Marty Wicks “shone”, and lives on in many ways.

Addy, being ten, will likely have good memories from yesterday, but as kids are wont to do may well move on to other interests.

The important thing was the experience, the opportunity, to learn and to grow. We can all learn.

(click to enlarge.)
ND Sunset Nov 1999001

#974 – Fran’s Thoughts from a Northern Lake

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

PRE-NOTE: Today is the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce of 1914, an expected yet celebrated temporary lull in the horrors of World War I. Madeline sent along a link to a song celebrating that interlude of peace in a time of war: Christmas in the Trenches, by John McCutcheon. It may take a while to access it – it will be viewed tens of thousands of times today. Just be patient.

All best wishes to you and yours at Christmas, 2014.

Christmas letters seem to be slowly going out of favor, which is sad. Everybody has their own style; each one brings their own unique surprise.

A favorite Christmas letter of mine, for many years, annually arrives from Fran, a retired Iron Range elementary school teacher (Grand Rapids) who I’ve known since the 1980s.

As with many correspondents, I hear from Fran once a year, as she hears once a year from me.

Every Christmas letter Fran writes, to family and friends, brings vividly to life something about the natural world she loves, around her lake, part of the northernmost reaches of the Mississippi River. Most years comes a glimpse of her extended world: this past year, a visit to Easter Island; in just a few more days, a month on her beloved Maui.

Here, reprinted with her permission, is her most recent letter, sent Dec. 15 (simply click to enlarge text).


Fran Strommer Dec. 2014

Fran Strommer Dec. 2014

Letter continues:

Fran letter continues

Fran letter continues

Fran’s letter concludes:

Fran letter concludes

Fran letter concludes

We all have particular gifts. One of Fran’s, honed over many years, is the gift of describing her environment in words.

Thanks, Fran, and to all the rest of us, have a great Christmas and New Year.

POST-NOTE: This post reminded me of a long ago writing by teacher June Johnson. June taught in the same school district as Fran, in a northernmost school at Bigfork MN. In 1985, editing a newsletter for teachers, she wrote about a 1940s era school memory in rural North Dakota. Here it is. It speaks eloquently for itself.

#973 – Dick Bernard: “We Wish you a Merry Christmas….”

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014

I’m a predictable creature: at the coffeehouse I frequent most every day, I have a fair number of good friends, but we understand each other. Sometimes we have animated conversations, sometimes I’m just back in my corner, writing letters, thinking about this and that, watching the early morning world go by.

Sometimes nearby events catch my attention, as this morning.

A younger woman was across the room, and presently an older man, looking pretty serious, joined her, and they engaged in quite a long conversation, if one could call it that.

It was obvious that this was not a “have a Merry Christmas” catch-up I was witnessing.

The way the conversation was going, it seemed pretty apparent that this was a Dad talking to a daughter, who appeared to be post high school age, and there had been serious problems. Probably there was, at some point, one of those “you can go straight to hell” conversations which most of us of a certain age, if we’re honest, have experienced ourselves at some point(s) in our own lives. Maybe she stormed out, and said “I’ll never talk to you again”.

Who knows?

Living in relationship is never easy.

More than once the young woman – who was facing away from me – apparently asked why they didn’t try to get ahold of her. “We didn’t know how to reach you”, he said. Perhaps she didn’t want to be reached, then, but had forgotten that.

More than once there was an apparent demand made of the other woman involved in this conversation, maybe the Mom: “she wouldn’t do that”, the man said, about something apparently non-negotiable, at least at the moment.

Conversation over, the two people prepared to leave. Steps from the table, the man turned to give the woman a big and obvious heartfelt hug; the woman didn’t reciprocate at all – he hugged her unresponsive shoulder.

The narrative about Christmas and other similar occasions presumes “good tidings of great joy” or fun gatherings “over the river and through the woods”, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

From the most basic of relationships, to the largest and most complex – say people of an entire nation, or world – there are breakdowns and enmity.

Best we figure out how to do what that dis-connected couple were apparently trying to do this morning: attempting to find a face-saving way to resolve possibly old grievances and bitterness and resume at least some kind of civil connection.

I wish them well.

Merry Christmas.

from Shirley L:
Interesting observations, Dick. I’ll bet each one of your readers could walk into a local Starbucks and witness a version of this scenario. Christmas is tough. Hearts and souls are pulled in so many directions – hopefully some of the joy of the season can become balm for the deepest hurts and be the catalyst for repair.
Wishing you a joyous Christmas!

#972 – Dick Bernard: The Dinner Party

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

There are several comments to the Cuba post, including a photo montage I’ve linked at the beginning of the Cuba section. See the additions here.

(click to enlarge)

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Prior Lake MN, Franciscan Retreat Center, Dec. 14, 2014

Thursday evening we were invited to a small dinner party at the home of our neighbor, Don. He lives across the street so the commute was short. He had invited two other friends, Arthur and Rose, who we had not met before. Of the five, we were the junior members. The oldest was 84; the youngest 70.

We’re all well into the age when reminiscing is a common thread. Don, retired from a long career from a railroad office job with the then-Great Northern, had once, in his younger years, been a guest at a dinner party hosted by Elizabeth Taylor at her home in Hollywood. He was native of what has long been called the “frogtown” neighborhood of St. Paul.

Arthur came from a farm family of five in central Minnesota. He grew up in a log cabin, literally, he said. He named a tiny town I’ve been through, and said their farm was 12 miles east. I thought – I may have said – that is really in the boonies!.

His German immigrant grandfather was a carpenter and would load his horse drawn wagon with tools, and leave for sometimes as much as two and a half months, working on building this or that somewhere in the general area. “Commuting” with horses is not easy!

All the home windows, he said, were truly home-made, none of the fancy stuff we now demand.

Rose, also from a farm family, grew up near a little town that is now a Minneapolis suburb, and worked in a factory there.

As for us, I’m a tiny town ND kid, child of school teachers; Cathy is a St. Paul east-sider whose family basically could be called a “3M family”, from the days when that corporation often became a persons career.

As one might expect, our conversation was interesting and animated and covered lots of ground. Arthur became a meatpacker across the river in South St. Paul, and when the plant closed in the late 1970s, had a fairly long career driving a Metro Transit bus, often in neighborhoods that he deemed not safe.

Our social get-together ended, and we all went home. “Merry Christmas” to all.

I checked e-mails and there were three of special note:

Good friends Ehtasham and Suhail, both writing from Pakistan, wrote about the tragic bombing that killed over 100 school children in Peshawar this week. “Killing school children for political agendas has no parallel in history. The whole nation is mourning”, one said. The other: “Though I am safe along with my family, yet the kids who have lost their lives are all mine; they are my family as well. The level of frustration is so high that the things are looking gloomy and rays of hope are looking faint. I am currently working with Plan International, which focuses on child rights and child protection, and we have initiated an internal debate on how can we ensure protection to the lives of kids in Pakistan.”

Another e-mail came from a great friend, Said, a Syrian PhD in England, fluent in French, who I’ve been fortunate to know for years. “It is much better to make friends than enemies & especially in this world of ours with vulnerable internet/communications & weapons that are readily available and devastating! I have been investigating WWI a lot since it is a sad anniversary of sorts – except for the Christmas truce [of 1914] which moves me every time I read about it – I also watched a very good French film about it. I suppose instead of the war to end all wars that was the peace to end all peace (1918-19). Well I wish you & yours a Merry Christmas & a peaceful 2015.”

Eight different people, eight different life scripts, stories, differing cultures, backgrounds, religions…but with so many common threads to share. We are one human family; the overwhelming vast majority of us good people*, each who can make a positive difference each and every day.

A hymn I like so profoundly says: “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.”

All Blessings at Christmas and 2015.

– In mid-November, I attended a workshop by Paul K. Chappell, in which he cited research that found 98% of soldiers were averse to killing other people, even in battle. This left, of course, 2% who had no such scruples, called psychopaths. The research expanded to include civilians – our own U.S. population. The same results: 98% and 2%.

In other words, anywhere there are humans, of whatever race, or creed, or nationality, or country, 98% comprise the prevailing side of humanity.

There are a lot of people in the 2% of course, and they are everywhere, but the 98% overwhelmingly have it in their power to minimize the influence of the 2%.

I asked Mr. Chappell for a citation on the source of his data: “Roy L. Swank and Walter E. Marchand, “Combat Neuroses: Development of Combat Exhaustion,.” American Medical Association: Archives of Neurology and Psychiatry, 1946, 244″.

#970 – Dick Bernard: Reflecting on My 1977 Christmas Letter

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

All best wishes to you and yours at this season, however you recognize it – and that can get confusing. I just came from the post office, which annually offers a large variety of Christmas and holiday themed stamps, hopefully to treat respectfully the largest number of people in this wonderfully diverse country of ours.

It occurred to me yesterday that this year is exactly half a life-time since I sent my first “home-made” Christmas card (in 1977, below). It had three panels: very simple. The sentiments I expressed then, fit today as well.

(click to enlarge)

1977 Christmas Card

1977 Christmas Card

The year was 1977, 37 years ago. Son Tom, then 13, drew the Christmas tree (we didn’t have a “real” or even artificial one that winter).

Of course, the only means of transmission then were in person, or by U.S. mail.

The “tradition” came for me to identify one particular significant event each year, and to write something about it.

The first time I went primarily to electronic transmission was well after the year 2000.

Fast forward to today.

This greeting can go anywhere/everywhere. But likely fewer people actually read it, than read that handmade card 37 years ago. Many of my own age range have never warmed to even e-mail; many more, like myself, are slow on the uptake with the already old-fashioned Facebook, and more recent Twitter, and the other shorthand ways of “touching base”.

We’re still in a canyon of non-communication*. In the midst of infinite means of communicating, everywhere, any time, instantly, something like this won’t reach people who don’t do internet; many on internet don’t do e-mail, or are so glutted with “communication” that a survival skill is the delete key…and sometimes worthy communication is missed. It’s a trying time, in so many ways.

I’ll be long gone when the next 37 year mark is reached. I wonder how people will be communicating then, if there are even people left to communicate with (a scary thought, but worth contemplating – we are the difference between having a future, or not).

For now, though, have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

And if you wish, here are recent blog posts that might speak to you in some way or other: “St. Nicholas“; “The Wallet“; “The Retreat“; “The Dinner Party”

* – This came home to me in a handwritten note with a Christmas card from long-time friend Joanne, received Dec 15: “I was going to e-mail you this Christmas letter as I know you prefer that but no e-mail address for you! Please send it and I’ll make sure it gets on my computer.”

She forgot to include her e-mail address….

Yes, it is difficult to communicate these days of mass communication!

POSTNOTE: Dec 22: Saturday morning I was at my usual “station”, Caribou Coffee in Woodbury, writing Christmas letters (in this case, to people for whom I had no e-mail address, advising them of this blog post). After all, everyone knows someone with computer, even if they don’t know how to use it! I’ve also learned that printed out versions of blogs don’t look as good as on the screen – tiny type font and all. Another problem in transitioning to a new way.

An older guy, who I know as another regular, came up to note that I was probably doing Christmas cards. Yes I was, I said. He said, he doesn’t do Christmas cards any more. We didn’t explore the topic in any depth; we really didn’t have to.

1977 is long gone, but it was good while it lasted….