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#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….

#969 – Dick Bernard: The Retreat: a time to Quiet

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

A couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, my friend, Clarence, invited me to a mens retreat with him.

I said, “sounds interesting, when is it? Where?” It turned out to be the Franciscan Retreat Center in Prior Lake MN, Friday night to Sunday noon, Dec 12-14. Schedules cleared, I signed up for my surprise.

(click to enlarge any photo)

Dec 14, 2014.  St. Francis of Assisi

Dec 14, 2014. St. Francis of Assisi

No question was asked, or information offered, about type of Retreat it would be or such. It could have been at a better time for several good reasons, but I decided to go anyway.

It was an enriching weekend, in all ways. There were about 35 of us, mostly older men. It was mostly individual, silent, with plenty of open time between the occasional structured activities, none of which were required; none of which were what I would call “interactive”. There was no TV or clock in the room, and no one I could see was running around with their iPhone or other evidence of doing business of any kind on a pre-holiday weekend. Meal times were communal times and we could and did chat.

The business was, in a real sense, getting in touch with ourselves, as individuals.

It is hard to “quiet”, but possible, and fulfilling once you can slow yourself down.

Here in Minnesota it was an unseasonably warm weekend – in the 40s – so the snow on the ground melted, leaving open the somewhat wet and messy walking paths in the woods. Those paths became my personal reflective space. Out there was the innovative sculpture of St. Francis seen above; and I was drawn to the old Peace Pole, and trees, leaves and surroundings of near-winter. It was quiet out there. What more could one ask.

As noted, I didn’t know what to expect during the weekend. I just went. Clarence knew more about this place than I, but this particular Retreat was a new one for him. He said during the weekend that he and his wife of 60 years went to Couples Retreat there for years. Caroline died about six months ago, so this was for him, too, a new experience.

The homilist for the Retreat turned out to be the retired Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Harry Flynn.

He was marvelous, sharing lessons from his life, and from others he knew. He spoke four times, I’m guessing a total of about two hours in all, no direction, no group dialogue, except unspoken encouragement for individual reflection following each presentation. He was local Bishop here for a thirteen years, 1995-2008, a leader like most who we can get to know only through newsmakers. I had heard him give a sermon only once in those thirteen years, and it thus was a pleasure to get this surprise this past weekend.

In fact, the Retreat was a reminder that mysteries are often pleasant. It is a risk to go, as I did, into an essentially unknown environment, not knowing much of anything about what I was getting into. It was not the first time I’ve done this, and it won’t be the last: life can be like a wandering in a wood; you’re not sure what you’ll encounter, but the risk is worth taking.

I’m reminded of the piece of advice I’ve often shared on taking risks*, which I first saw in the Church Bulletin at the Methodist Church in Park Rapids MN in October, 1982. Here it is, again:

Leo Buscaglia quotation

Leo Buscaglia quotation

Back home, regrouping, I watched 60 Minutes last night, and one of the segments was about the general business of Quieting. Take a look at the segment entitled Mindfulness. It’s not quite the same as I experienced, but only a matter of degree.

And thank you, Clarence, for the suggestion of joining you and 35 others on Retreat.

Peace Pole Dec. 13, 2014, Franciscan Retreat Center, Prior Lake MN

Peace Pole Dec. 13, 2014, Franciscan Retreat Center, Prior Lake MN

Grounded.  Dec. 13, 2013

Grounded. Dec. 13, 2013

We had a single, optional, group activity: the comedy, Parental Guidance, about two grandparents attempting to grandparent their grandkids during the parents time away. It is a fun movie, full of lessons of its own, and especial fun to sit with a bunch of old guys, like me, and see how we all reacted to this or that scene.

I recommend it.

* POSTNOTE: My sister, Mary Ann, writes: “Enjoyed reading it….there are a few more lines to the prose by Ward which is also one of my favorites. Just google “To Risk” since I am not talented enough to insert a hyperlink.” So I did. And here is William Arthur WardTo Risk“. As you can note, Ward’s is virtually identical to Leo Buscaglia, who was a contemporary of Ward’s, and to whom another source attributed the writing some years ago.

Who wrote it? No matter. It exists, and that is good.

All Blessings of the season to everyone.

POSTNOTE 2: Dec. 16. The most recent Just Above Sunset is very long and, I feel, very pertinent. I add my own long comment at the end of the post.

#966 – Dick Bernard: St. Nicholas

Saturday, December 6th, 2014

A week ago I did a post on the beginning of Advent. In that post, I recommended the book of reflections entitled “All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time” by Robert Ellsberg, hoping to commit myself to its daily messages.

So far, so good. Today’s reflection, on St. Nicholas, seems especially worth sharing. It is a single page, and can be read here: St. Nicholas001

He’s in the big leagues of Patrons, including, as the author notes, “children, sailors, pawnbrokers, and prostitutes.”

Not mentioned, probably intentionally, is that “old St. Nick”, aka Santa Claus, is (most apparently) the patron saint of those who make money marketing his image.

Of course, St. Nick is a bit more complicated than that!

Take a moment to read the single page. (The previous day reflection featured Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.)

Yes, its a spiritual kind of book, oriented to Catholics, but not oppressively so. A good, easy, daily read.

#963 – Dick Bernard: The First Sunday of Advent, 2014

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Today, at least for Roman Catholics, is the First Sunday of Advent. It will be noticed today at my Church, Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis.

As with most everything in our diverse society, there are many definitions of the meaning of this liturgical season, the four Sundays between now and Christmas Day, December 25. Here’s “Advent” as found in google entries.

I happen to be Catholic, actually quite active, I’d say. This would make me a subset of a subset of the American population.

In all ways, the U.S. is a diverse country. The Statistical Abstract of the United States, published by the Census Bureau, says about 80% of adult Americans describe themselves as “Christian”; 25% of this same population says they’re “Catholic”. (The data is here.)

Of course, if you’re a “boots on the ground” person, as I am, raw data like the above pretty quickly devolves. As the most appropriate mantra at Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis (my church) is stated every Sunday: “welcome, wherever you are on your faith journey….” The people in the pews know the truth of this phrase, and know that on every given Sunday, two-thirds of them are not even in the pews.

Regardless of specific belief, the vast majority of us, everywhere, are good people*.

I’m drawn to this topic a bit more than usual this weekend since I just returned from a visit to my last surviving Uncle, Vince, winding down his long life in a wonderful nursing home in a small North Dakota town.

Thanksgiving Day I decided to bring to him, for hanging in his room, the below holy family** (which had not yet been hung, and appears sideways, as it appeared in his room, prior to hanging.)

(click to enlarge)

Nov. 27, 2014

Nov. 27, 2014

For many years this image hung in the family farm home, and Vince seemed glad to see it come to visit. I asked him how old it was, and he said it was his mothers (my grandmothers) favorite, and it was probably older than he, in other words pre-dating 1925.

When next I visit, I hope to see it hanging on the wall he faces each day, and as such things go, it will likely bring back memories, and perhaps other emotions as well. Images tend to do this.

Of course, even in the religious milieu, an event like Advent is complicated. It is observed (including not being observed at all) in various ways even by people within the Catholic Church. A constructive observance, in my opinion, is to attempt to use the next 25 days to daily reflect on something or other in my own life. A nominally Catholic but mostly inspirational book of Daily Reflections given to me years ago by my friend Les Corey comes immediately to mind**; and very likely I can “tie in” Uncle Vince through letters this month. (It helps me to make a public declaration of intention on these things – a little more likely that I’ll follow through!)

Of course, there is, always, lots of side-chatter in this country at this season: “Black Friday” rolled out two days ago. We are a financial “bottom line” nation, I guess. Profits trump most anything else.

But, be that as it may, perhaps my essential message is that the next few weeks can be helpful simply for quieting ones-self and reflecting on a more simple way of being, such as greeted that icon when it was first hung in that simple North Dakota farm home perhaps even more than 100 years ago.

Have a good Advent.

* – A few hours ago, we experienced a good positive start to Advent. After a party for three of our grandkids who have November birthdays, we all went to a Minnesota based project called Feed My Starving Children where, along with 115 others adults and children, we filled food packets whose ultimate destination is Liberia. It was our first time participating with this activity, and it was a very positive activity. Hard work, but a great family activity. Check it, or something similar, out. Special thanks to one of the birthday kids, 8-year old Lucy, who apparently suggested the activity.

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

Nov. 29, 2014, Addy, Lucy, Kelly

** – Of course, I don’t know the exact origin of the print which so captured Grandma. Almost certainly the real holy family of Bible days was not European white, as I am, and she was; rather, most likely, middle eastern in ethnicity and appearance.

*** – The book I’ve dusted off for the next weeks: All Saints, Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for our Time by Robert Ellsberg.

#958 – Dick Bernard: An unexpected look at a trip through California , 1941.

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Numerous times this past year I’ve written about the ancestral farm in North Dakota. The business of sifting and sorting through over 100 years of pictures and written records takes place here at home, as I go through documents piece-by-piece.

Often there have been surprises.

Last night two postcards floated to the top of the pile, post-marked San Rafael and Eureka CA on July 22 and 23, 1941.

Here’s the first:

(click to enlarge)
Bernard California 1941001

The text was sparse, as one might expect. The writer was my mother: “Dear Pa and all. We left Long Beach this morning and are staying at a cabin in Greenfield CA. It is 323 miles today but we got a late start. The old man who owns these cabins worked around Lamoure [south central ND, Mom’s home area] in [18]88*. He came here from Montana. Don’t sound as tho we will get much sleep as we are on the main highway. Richard [me, one year old] is fine, sleeping already. Esther, Henry and Rich” Mom was 31 at the time; Dad was 32.

I long knew about this western trip, in fact I wrote about it a year ago here.

But this fragment – two penny post cards – helped to fill out the story from a contemporary perspective, rather than from someones recollections years later.

I looked up Greenfield. I already knew San Rafael, just on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge; and Eureka is up the coast a ways from San Rafael. Mapquest shows todays routes Long Beach-Greenfield-San Rafael-Eureka here, here and here. 1941 was pre-freeways of course. It would appear that most of their route ran more or less along what was then Highway 101 crossing the then-new Golden Gate Bridge and continuing north on Hwy 101 to Eureka.

They continued to Portland OR, where they visited folks who’d moved west from near Mom’s ND home, thence to Bremerton WA, thence east back to North Dakota.

The big surprise from the Postcard was that we apparently spent more time in California than my Dad had remembered. He had us leaving Long Beach on July 5. The San Rafael postcard was postmarked July 22 meaning, likely, that they were in Greenfield on July 20 and probably spent two more weeks in Long Beach than he had recalled.

The second postcard, with the Golden Gate Bridge (opened 1937), postmarked Eureka CA Jul 23, 1941, was to my Uncle Art, then 13 years old. It takes considerable patience to decipher it – long ago pencil on glossy paper with ages of wear doesn’t make for an easy task. Luckily, there aren’t many words. Here’s what I’ve divined so far: “Tuesday [July 22, 1941]. We went over this [the Bridge] yesterday morning but it was so foggy couldn’t see…the Redwoods…We are fine….”. The postcard itself was labeled “No 60 in UNION OIL COMPANY’S Natural Color Scenes of the West. Golden Gate Bridge on Highway 101. This engineering wonder links San Francisco with the great California Redwood Empire. Unique in bridging the mouth of a major harbor, it has the longest single clear span in the world – 4200 feet.”

The front of the postcard written at Greenfield is entertaining, and I’ll let it speak for itself.

Bernard California 1941002

You’ll never know what you’ll find hidden in what you thought was “junk”….

The travelers, at right in the photo: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard, with Henry’s parents and brother, Frank, at Long Beach, July, 1941. (Click to enlarge)

The travelers in the story are at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard.  From left, Henry, Josephine, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry's parents and siblings, in Long Beach.

The travelers in the story are at right: Richard, Henry and Esther Bernard. From left, Henry, Josephine, Josie Whitaker, and Frank Bernard, Henry’s parents and siblings, in Long Beach.

* Lamoure was founded in 1882; North Dakota became a state in 1889.

from Shirley:
Dick – thanks for the views of old post cards – 1941 – oh my. When I was growing up California seemed to me to be a “magical” place. I would hear conversations about
visits there – the long drive to get there – the Pacific Ocean – the orange groves – etc. Surely this was a place of excitement and mystery. My first trip there was in the late 50’s. I drove my VW to Long Beach – to be shipped to Hawaii where I was moving. A friend accompanied me – we drove across Montana into Washington and then down the road to Long Beach. My bubble burst – and California became a crowded place without color as it was so dry with very little greenery. LA was a vast “pleasure-land” and we did have fun there after shipping the car off on its journey. The Hollywood Bowl, tours of the homes of stars, Disneyland… yes – a lot of fun – but not the picture book in my mind. Thanks for sharing.

#955 – Dick Bernard: The St. John’s Bible at the Basilica of St. Mary, Minneapolis MN

Friday, November 14th, 2014

The “rack card” at the Basilica display of the St. John’s Bible can be seen here: St Johns Bible rack card001

The last two weeks I had noticed portions of the magnificent St. John’s Bible on display at my home Church, the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis MN.

A flier at the back of the Church attracted my attention to a Reception and Presentation Thursday evening Nov. 13. The flier: “The Saint John’s Bible is the first handwritten, illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey in over 500 years. Its hand written lettering and stunning artworks truly present the Word of God in an engaging and inspirational way. Discover the beauty and splendor of the St. Johns’ Bible at a captivating and lively presentation which shares the story of this once in a millennium undertaking…”

Only a few of us came to the program last night. It was our gain to have almost a private program; all I can do is encourage your taking the time to view several portions of the Bible at the Basilica of St. Mary undercroft and Church proper during usual church hours through November 30.

Tim Ternes, Director of The St. John’s Bible at the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library at St. John’s University, presented a fascinating program. I asked permission to take snapshots, all related to the St. John’s Bible Project. The link to much information about the project, which went from 1995-2011, can be accessed here.

Below are a few of my snapshots from Nov. 13.

But make it a point to actually see the fascinating display at the Basilica before it ends November 30. Information here.

(click to enlarge all photos)

Tim Ternes (at left) Nov. 13, 2014

Tim Ternes (at left) Nov. 13, 2014

The creation story.  One of the many magnificent works of art within the St. John's Bible (which is, in itself, a magnificent work of the calligrapher's art.)

The creation story. One of the many magnificent works of art within the St. John’s Bible (which is, in itself, a magnificent work of the calligrapher’s art.)

In keeping with ancient tradition, the book is filled with art of local flora and fauna from, in this case, central Minnesota.

In keeping with ancient tradition, the book is filled with art of local flora and fauna from, in this case, central Minnesota.

Even calligraphers make mistakes.  Here is one of a few examples in the massive book where an entire line was missed.  Rather than redo the entire page, the calligrapher constructs a sometimes whimsical insertion, such as this one.

Even calligraphers make mistakes. Here is one of a few examples in the massive book where an entire line was missed. Rather than redo the entire page, the calligrapher constructs a sometimes whimsical insertion, such as this one.

I am not an expert in art. As I am fond of noting, in college I waited to the last minute to take the required class, Art Appreciation, and then got a “D” in it. I had a similar experience with Music Appreciation. But time changes things, and now I love both.

I came to “class” last night with only the vaguest understandings about calligraphy. I left with a great appreciation for the skill and even humor of calligraphers, and the awesome project that is the St. John’s Bible.

Do see the exhibit if you have the opportunity. It has been to many states, with more to come. The next exhibition is Madison Wisconsin beginning December 19, 2014.

According to Mr. Ternes, here are the scheduled talks in Madison:
January 19, 2015 at 7:00 p.m. at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church, 401 S. Owen Drive, Madison, WI

Thursday, January 22, 5:30–8:30 p.m. “From Inspiration to Illumination: An Introduction to The Saint John’s Bible.” Tim Ternes, Director, The Saint John’s Bible. 5:30 p.m., illustrated presentation. 7 p.m., group discussion. 8 p.m., exhibition walk through with question-and-answer. Room L160, Elvehjem Building.

#953 – Wayne: A bit of nostalgia remembering the early 1940s.

Monday, November 10th, 2014

This summer my friend, Kathy Garvey, gave me a photo and fascinating accompanying story, both of which speak for themselves and follow, below. I have purposely not edited Wayne’s words, as they are written spontaneously, and more interesting. “Dad” is Kathy’s Grandpa, and the other players are his wife and kids. Wayne writes extemporaneously the recollections about the family in the early 1940s. Shakopee is a southwest suburb of Minneapolis MN, on the Minnesota River. The other places mentioned are south suburban Minneapolis and St. Paul.

(click to enlarge)

1942, Shakopee MN

1942, Shakopee MN

“Thank you for the picture of Dad at our filling station at 139 Dakota Street in Shakopee in 1942 at the age of 68. I had never seen this picture. The pumps were not electrified. The customer stated how many gallons wanted and you used the hand pump to reach that level in the glass bowl, then gravity hosed it to the car. Plastic had not been invented and no metal quart cans of oil as aluminum was needed for building planes and tanks. You filled quart bottles from a drum as needed. At age 11 I waited on customers as well. Station was closed about a year later as it was a poor location and gas being rationed the average the average person only had stamps for three gallons per week. Margaret was at the Cargill shipyard and received extra stamps due to her vital work [nursing]. Cars of the day were difficult to start in cold weather so she had an extra battery installed under the hood of her 1939 Pontiac coupe.

In 1939 Dad’s legs were bothering after years of following a team of horses and a plow thru the fields so it was decided that Elmer and Irene would take over the farm at the time of their marriage and we would move to Shakopee to a house acquired thru a tax sale. Rita and I thought we were in heaven being only two blocks from St. Mary’s school, one block from the bakery and two blocks from downtown. There was no central plumbing or heat so Dad partitioned off part of the very large kitchen for a bathroom including a tub. After years of an outdoor toilet and Saturday night baths in a washtub behind the kitchen stove this was a real luxury. A furnace was ordered from Montgomery Ward in St. Paul and an installer came by train to put in and stayed with us for two days as he did not have a car. I should add that we were only two blocks from the first indoor movie that we had ever seen.

Farmers could not join the social security program in those days so we had no real source of income. We fixed up and painted a house acquired thru tax sale and rent from this helped. A few summers Dad worked for the State of Minnesota planting trees but he could not stand the hot weather. During the winter he liked to attend court trials and was always hopeful they would need a juror for the five dollars per day pay which could probably equate to eighty dollars today.

In 1941 he acquired a large stucco home in rundown condition which needed to be razed thru tax sale for twenty-five dollars. Rita and I spent many hours there stripping plaster and nails from the wall laths so they could be used in the new house on 139 Dakota Street. With the help of a retired carpenter for framing Dad did most of the building by himself. On the afternoon of December 7, 1941, he and I were working there when Rita hurried to tell us of the attack on Pearl Harbor. We moved to that house in 1942. Later he would build two other houses on speculation, one on East first street and another near the women’s reformatory.

During the war mother and other ladies would gather at the reformatory to cut sterile bed sheet into thin strips and roll them to be used treating the wounded soldiers in Europe. Also since we lived near the railroad tracks hoboes riding the trains would often come to the door asking to work for food. She gave them sandwiches and sent them on their way.

In the early days the Milwaukee railroad had a daily freight train with a passenger car on the end between Farmington, Lakeview, Prior Lake, Shakopee and Chaska, returning that afternoon. There was a siding in Credit River about one mile from our church. This would not happen today but at the time trucks to carry goods to the Twin Cities were not very reliable so farmers could use this siding to ship crops to market. Every fall Dad would contract to sell a load of grain, and each winter a load of cordwood. On the appointed day Mary, Margaret and Helen would go to the siding and flag the train down and instruct the trainmen as to placing an empty boxcar. Elmer would stand on the hill behind our house and listen for the whistle of the steam engine approaching the grade crossing. Then if he heard the engine starting up several minutes later he and Dad would hitch teams of horses to the already loaded wagons. The girls would wait at the siding and help load the boxcars which are huge in size and required many wagon loads to fill. Two days later they would again flag down the train to transport the car. Dad, Elmer and at times a hired hand would spend much of the winter cutting wood as there was no fieldwork at that time of the year.

Helen related that every second day mother would bake 13 loaves of bread and two tins of muffins. When a hog was butchered she would cook and can the meat in mason jars. The pork was put in huge crocks with a layer of salt between each.

I once asked Margaret to write some family history. She replied in part “we were so lucky to have such good, hardworking parents who did not smoke, drink, curse or gamble”. How true.”

Wayne, July 9, 2014

#948 – Dick Bernard: North Dakota’s 125th Birthday; remembering a farm as part of that history

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

Today, November 2, 2014, is the 125th anniversary of the admission of the State of North Dakota to the United States of America.

I previously wrote about the history of this event, and the relation of my Grandparents Busch farm to that history on October 1. You can read that here, with numerous links.

The genesis for todays post came early Friday morning, in the hall between the North Dakota Nursing Home where my Uncle lives; and the Assisted Living facility where he lived until a year ago. I was walking down this hall and saw this photograph on the wall. I had seen it before, but this time it spoke to me in a new and deeper way. It was my Uncles farm, and he is the last of nine members of the family who called it home. I “borrowed” the photo and brought it home so I could scan it for posterity. The photo was taken, I learned, in the winter of 1992, hung in the hallway by someone I don’t know. Below is a marked version of it.

(click to enlarge)

The Busch farm, Henrietta Township ND, winter of 1992.

The Busch farm, Henrietta Township ND, winter of 1992.

Every one of us have our own stories about places familiar to us. Recently I had occasion to revisit Eric Sevaried’s 1956 classic story in Colliers magazine: “You can go home again”, about the always real and imaginary relationship between place, our past and the present.

For Eric Sevaried, the place of his childhood was Velva ND. We lived in Karlsruhe, not far from Velva, in 1951-53, just three years before he came home again.


Then there’s the Busch farm, above pictured:

Grandma and Grandpa Busch, Rosa Berning and Ferdinand Busch, ages 21 and 25, came to the little knoll, the farmstead for their little piece of heaven, as winter ended in 1905. North Dakota was bustling, not yet a teenager, 15 years old. Like a teen, it was growing fast, full of dreams and dilemmas, perhaps like todays western ND oil patch. The future was not yet known, the good times or the very bad, like the death of a child on the farm; or the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Theirs was virgin land, and the new house they soon built overlooked their surrounding acres. There was nary a tree in sight, in any direction.

To the northeast (upper right on the photo), about four miles distance down the hill in the James River Valley lay the older town of Grand Rapids. Within eyeshot, less than five miles to the southwest, was what would soon officially be the town of Berlin.

Grandpa’s Dad, my great-grandfather Wilhelm Busch, had purchased the farm for his son from the owner of the property, the father of later U.S. Senator Milton R. Young. Most likely they were steered to this land by Grandpa’s uncle, B. H. Busch of Dubuque, a budding successful land entrepreneur. They would be followed by other Buschs and Bernings, as Leonard, Lena, Christina, August. August and Christina Berning took up the neighboring farm to the SE about a year later, and farmed there for many years. Leonard and his wife came to Adrian for a few years; Lena married Art Parker, and before they returned to Dubuque, they were early caretakers at the Grand Rapids Park, the first residents of what we all know as the caretakers house.

The Busch house (marked “A” on the photo), initially was simply the standard two story prairie box. The kitchen was initially detached from the house on the west side; later added to the east side of the house; later an addition was built on the west side. In this house were born nine children; all but one lived to adulthood there. Rural telephone service came to this house in 1912, about the time Verena, the third child, was born in 1912. Ferdinand was right in the thick of things with Lakeview rural telephone from the beginning; Vincent did lots of work on rural telephone issues. Verena died of illness at 15, in 1927.

The Buschs, along with many others in the area, founded St. Johns Catholic Church in Berlin in 1915.

Vincent and Edith, brother and sister, never married, born 1925 and 1920 respectively, both lived on the farm until health issues led to a move to town in 2006.

Grandpa died in the old farm house, in 1967. Grandma was said to be the first person to die in what is now St. Rose Care Center in August, 1972. The torch was passed.

Another original building, which still survives at the farmstead, barely, is the granary labeled as “C” on the photo. The first barn was approximately at the letter “D”; another building, which I knew as the chicken coop, was later replaced by the metal shed labeled “G”. A new barn was built at “E” in 1916 for some unrecounted reason. In 1949, the roof blew off this barn and was replaced by the new hand-made roof, which the local Catholic Priest, Fr. Duda, himself an expert carpenter, declared wouldn’t last. That roof is what presently keeps the barn below it from collapsing. Early on, my Dad participated in the reconstruction; Uncle Vince did a huge amount of the work, including the shingling.

In 1957, Grandpa bought the old depot in Berlin and moved the freight house and the depot agents portion of the depot to the farm. They are F1 and F2 on the photo. F2 collapsed about 2006. F1 is at the end of its life.

In 1992, Vincent bought a new house, “B”, which they planted on what all of us descendants knew as the front lawn, a few feet from the old house, which remained there until we took it down in 2000. Most every gathering at the farm ended with a group picture on the same portion of lawn which is now occupied by the new house, presently being renovated.

There has been, now, 109 years of life on this farmstead, though at the moment no one lives on the property (soon to change). The farm is no more or less typical than any farm or town neighborhood anywhere. It is a place full of tradition and memory, especially for this grandson of the place.

There are endless memories in these few acres, as there are in every farmstead; in every block, in every town and city, everywhere.

There was Grandpa’s hired man, way back, who likely slept in the granary. One year, he didn’t come back, killed in WWI. George Busch was a naval officer in WWII; youngest brother Art, went in the Army at the end of the War; Vince stayed home to do the necessary farming. Music was a constant in the house, and probably elsewhere, all “homemade” music, sung and played by the inhabitants….

Busch farm harvest time 1907,.  Rosa Busch holds her daughter Lucina, Others in photo include Ferd, behind the grain shock; Rosa's sister, Lena, and Ferds father Wilhelm, and young brother William Busch.  It is unknown who was unloading the grain in background.  Possibly, it was Ferds brother, Leonard, who also farmed for a time in ND.

Busch farm harvest time 1907,. Rosa Busch holds her daughter Lucina, Others in photo include Ferd, behind the grain shock; Rosa’s sister, Lena, and Ferds father Wilhelm, and young brother William Busch. It is unknown who was unloading the grain in background. Possibly, it was Ferds brother, Leonard, who also farmed for a time in ND.

What are your memories, about your places?

Happy Birthday, North Dakota.

More about the Busch farm here.