Tag Archives: Family

Lost & Found

Today’s guest post comes from Steve Grooms.

After living 38 years in my Saint Paul bungalow, I decided to move closer to my family.

I spent half a year last winter and spring preparing my home for sale. The job would have been impossible without the help of several people who contribute to this blog site. They helped clean and paint my home. They loaded decades of junk in a pickup and took it to the dump. And they boxed up a few precious things so I could ship them to Portland.

We finally ran out of time. There was still work to be done when my friends said goodbye the last time and turned their attention toward their own homes, their own families and activities for Memorial Day.

That’s when things fell apart for me. The folks who would run the estate sale wanted me out of the home so they could organize the sale. I still needed to box up more stuff and ship most of it to Portland. And I needed to fill my station wagon with a few things I’d drive to my new home.

When my home hit the real estate market I had to keep leaving while groups of potential buyers toured it. Seven groups came through the first day the home was listed for sale. I sat in my station wagon from a discrete spot up the block, waiting for them to leave so I could go back to packing.

I expected it would take from four to six weeks to sell my home. But 30 hours after going on sale I had two parties offering to pay more than my asking price for the home.

That was wonderful, but it meant that instead of having many weeks to pack and leave I had two days! That would have been difficult for someone young and fit. For a senior citizen with health issues the overnight sale of my home created a crisis. On my last day I limped with boxes of stuff between home and my car in a thunderstorm. It was one of the worst days of my life.

Many things I meant to take to Oregon never got packed because I ran out of time. I didn’t realize how severe my losses were until I got to Portland and discovered how many useful or beloved things had failed to make the trip. The box of precious family photos ended up in a landfill in Minnesota. I forgot to bring my warm coat. My favorite Christmas memorabilia didn’t show up after the move.  Molly, my daughter, grieved the loss of the Christmas box, although she understood I had left Minnesota in near panic.

Last Thursday Molly and Liam came over to my new apartment. I mentioned that there was one last box I hadn’t opened after the move. Parked on a high shelf, it was too heavy for me to bring down. From its weight, I guessed the box held books.

Liam and I were in the living room when Molly called to me in a strangled voice. I rushed to the bedroom. The mystery box was on the bed, flaps open. Molly was holding a Lunds shopping bag that had been packed in May by one of my baboon friends, probably Linda or Barbara. That bag held our old family Christmas stockings. Tears streamed down Molly’s cheeks. She wasn’t able to talk.

The red stocking was made for me by my dad in 1956 when we lived in Iowa. A plump green fish swims near the top of the stocking and exhales a bright spray of sequin bubbles. My name is written below, the letter shaped from red and white pipe cleaners.

My erstwife’s childhood blue stocking was there too. Kathe’s mother sewed this stocking by hand when the family still lived in New York City. She decorated it with a reindeer fawn, a Christmas tree and a little girl dressed for Swedish folk dancing.  Stitched letters proclaim “Merry Christmas Kathe Ann.”

While my former wife was not artistic or crafty, she had a gift for making charming Christmas stockings. There in the Lunds bag was the stocking she made for Molly in 1983. The white stocking sparkles with sequins and carries several iconic Christmas objects: a teddy bear, a dancing girl and a goofy jack-in-the-box. At the bottom of the stocking a six-year-old girl sleeps lies in her bed, her arm thrown over an orange kitten. The little girl is, of course, Molly. We gave the kitten to Molly just before Christmas.

When Molly first saw the exuberant kitten, she said, “Wow, that’s one froshus cat!”  And that is how Froshus got his name.

When she finally could speak through her tears, Molly said, “Nothing else matters. The other stuff you lost doesn’t matter. I didn’t want you to know that it broke my heart to think we’d lost these. And here they are.” The old stockings now hang on Molly’s hearth, waiting to be filled by Santa.

Merry Christmas, baboons.

What precious object would you dread to lose?

The Boomgaarden Orchestra

Today’s guest post comes from Renee Boomgaarden, aka Renee in North Dakota.

Sometime in 1925, the residents in and around Ellsworth, MN were abuzz with the news that Okke Boomgaarden had bought a $3000 accordion for his daughter, Amanda.

Okke was my great uncle, the fifth oldest of the sixteen children in my grandfather’s family. Okke was, officially, a farmer, sort of like how Don Corleone was, officially, an olive oil importer. Okke made his money bootlegging, and his barn was used for dances, not livestock. Okke had regular dances in the barn. He provided refreshments, at a cost, and members of the family provided the music.

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Family historians talk about my grandfather and many of his siblings having a natural aptitude for music. All were self taught.

  • Great Uncle George learned to play the fiddle when he was 16.
  • Great Uncle Albert also played the fiddle.
  • Great Uncle Herman was a noted left handed banjo player.
  • My grandfather played the cello.
  • Great Aunt Amelia played the piano.
  • Other family members played the accordion.

In the years before the First World War they were know as The Boomgaarden Orchestra and played for dances, weddings, and harvest festivals in northwest Iowa and southwest Minnesota.

After the war, they changed their name to Mandy’s Jazz Kings, and played in Okke’s barn, joined by Okke’s children Georgie on fiddle, Jake on saxophone, and Amanda and Mabel on the accordion.

My father remembers going to some of those dances when he was a little boy, driving to Ellsworth with his parents in their Graham-Paige automobile. I wish I know more about the music the Jazz Kings and the Boomgaarden Orchestra performed.

I wish I knew what happened to my grandfather’s cello. Until I researched for this post, I never even knew he played a string instrument.

Okke died of a heart attack in 1928, and the dances stopped soon afterwards. The older members of the Jazz Kings had their own farms and families to care for and couldn’t play with the band anymore. Okke’s sons Georgie and Jake kept playing, changing the name to The Georgie Boomgaarden Orchestra. Georgie and his band played in the towns around Ellsworth until the 1970’s.

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The Depression hit everybody hard. At one point, Jake’s saxophone needed $12.00 worth of repairs, but he didn’t have the money to fix it. The local doctor intervened and paid for the repairs. He had just built a night club in Ellsworth and needed musicians to play for the dances.

My grandfather felt it was important for my dad and his brother to have some kind of music training despite the tight finances. Grandpa drove Dad and Uncle Alvin to Luverne once a week to practice with a drum and bugle corps. This group was comprised of sons of World War I veterans, and you can see them in the photo at the top of this page. Dad played both drum and the bugle – he is the third boy on the right in the back row. He can still play his bugle, and has two of them in his bedroom.

Renee played bass clarinet for Concordia.
Renee played bass clarinet for Concordia.

My children and I are the current Boomgaarden music amateurs along with my husband. Husband plays the cello, guitar, harmonica, and piano. He also sings. You can see me playing my bass clarinet in the Concordia College Band in 1978. Daughter plays the violin, French horn, and piano. She sings in college. Son played the trombone and sang in college. He currently sings in the church choir. I drafted husband to join the handbell choir. He drafted me to sometimes play the bass guitar in a very amateur gospel/rock and roll group.

Why do we do these thing? I have no idea. Maybe Okke will explain it to me someday in the Hereafter.

Who has the talent in your family?

Mistaken Identity

Today’s guest post comes from littlejailbird.

A long time ago I was witness to a case of mistaken identity that came close to having disastrous results. This took place at the first home I remember living as a child. I was still quite young, 5 years old or so, I think, and had two older sisters and one younger brother.


Our family had close relationships  with several of our neighbors. On this particular day, we – my mom and us kids – had been somewhere with another neighbor family. They dropped us off at our house and as we walked up to our front door, we all saw it – an animal in the flower bed that was next to the front steps. My brother, who is 2 ½ years younger than I am, toddled towards this animal, calling “Kitty, kitty, kitty” and holding out his hand.

Well. This creature did bear some resemblance to a cat – a long-haired black and white cat – but it definitely wasn’t what any of the rest of us would call a kitty.

All of us girls were struck dumb with shock and horror, because we knew what could happen if our brother tried to pet the animal. I was too scared to move but luckily my mom was not. I rarely saw my mother running, but she did then – and the sight of my mom sprinting and snatching up my brother before he could get closer to this creature would have made me laugh out loud, if I hadn’t been so frightened.


Somehow we managed to all get in the house without anything disastrous happening. Later, I heard that the cute black and white animal was probably rabid, so who knows what would have happened if my brother had managed to get close to this “kitty.” Oddly enough, now my brother has a special way with cats, but I’m pretty sure he knows exactly what is and what isn’t a kitty and will never again mistake a skunk for a cat.

(skunk photo: Kevin Collins / CC-BY 2.0)

When have you been involved in or witnessed a terrible case of mistaken identity?

Life With Father

Today’s guest post comes from Renee.

“Renee! That damn dog is looking at me again!!”

I respond to my father’s plaintive cry and remove the dog from the dining room. The cat is allowed to stay. Dad forgives cats for everything. My father believes that our animals should enjoy the bounty of our table, and he shares bits of his meals with them. Dad also believes that the dog should know when he has finished sharing, and she should just leave the room. We explain that she doesn’t think that way, and that he has to stop feeding her from the table if he wants her to leave him alone. As you can see from the photo, she waits patiently nearby while he eats. That is still too much for dad. He says that when an animal looks at him while he eats and he doesn’t feed it, he feels like the people in the parable of the Good Samaritan who walked past the victim and didn’t help. So, I remove the dog.

It has been six weeks since my 93 year old, newly widowed, father moved in with me and my husband. Things have gone pretty well, aside from his strife with the guilt-inducing terrier. He personalized his new room with photos, furniture from home, and mementos, and made it a comfortable nook where he reads, writes letters, and listens to CD’s of his favorite radio preachers. He is appreciative and meticulously clean and tidy. He is frustrated by his diminishing physical strength and his inability to fix things. He is easily hurt by a sharp word, and we need to be very patient as he struggles to understand the complicated business and health issues we discuss. He is usually quite cheerful, though, and remains curious about the world and the people around him.

Living with my father is a balancing act of providing necessary care with as much autonomy as possible. I am thankful that he is independent with all his personal care. I help out by organizing his meds and taking him to appointments and handling his business. Things will change as his health deteriorates from his cancer and cardiac disease and age, but at this point we have a pretty good thing going. He has breakfast with us every morning. He loves French press coffee. We go to work and he potters around until lunch, when we come home to eat with him. We go back to work, and then one of us slips away at 3:45pm to take him to coffee with a group of retired teachers. One of the teachers brings him home, and we meet up with him around 6:00 for supper. He goes to bed pretty early. On weekends he watches us garden. He also planned and directed the transformation of our basement and garage into temples of Dutch order and cleanliness. We have a very Jake-centric household, but that is ok with us. I am thankful that my husband is supportive of our doing this. We are both very fatigued at the end of the day.

Every day when we leave for work we make sure Dad has a bowl of Lindt chocolate truffles on the counter, a beer or two in the fridge, lots of ice cream, and Radio Heartland streaming on the computer. He really likes listening to Jimmy Dale Gilmore and the Wronglers. He knows he is shamelessly spoiled, and repays us with stories. Here is a true one from home about people I know.

Old Johnny B was a farmer and horse trader from Magnolia, MN, born around the turn of the century. (His son Dallas is still alive and went skydiving two years ago on his 95th birthday.) Many years ago Johnny bought a horse from an old German farmer, and when he got the horse home, he put it in the corral and the horse proceeded to walk right into the barn wall. The horse was blind! Johnny confronted the farmer. “Why didn’t you tell me the horse was blind?” The farmer replied in his thick accent “I did! I told you he didn’t look so good!”

I think a story like that makes up for any amount of extra work we have. He has tons of stories, and we will keep the truffles and beer in good supply as long as he can enjoy them.

Share a joke a 93 year-old might enjoy. 

Yawn Shop

A new study says dogs yawn more in response to yawns from their owners than they do to the yawns of strangers. I just tried to make this happen with my dog by yawning several times right in her face. She wouldn’t look at me, possibly out of embarrassment. Or maybe I need to brush my teeth.


But I did start to feel a little tired, so we took a twenty minute nap.

While sleeping I had a short dream that I was a frightened chipmunk running from a Rottweiler who had cornered me at the back of an open garage. With no easy escape, I cowered in a corner as the animal stood over me, drooling and trembling in the same way a movie villain pauses over a supposedly-vanquished superhero or secret agent to make a speech before delivering the final blow. It was a garage, so I considered grabbing a shovel from a hook on the wall and using it to force the dog to back away, but then I remembered, I’m a chipmunk – no hands. So I yawned. Amazingly, that caused the dog to pause for a moment, so I yawned again. The dog tipped its head to one side the way dogs do when they appear to be confused. I yawned a third time, and incredibly, the Rottweiler also opened its mouth wide.

Then I woke up.

I’m not sure this proves anything other than the potential fact that it is not very satisfying to fall asleep while reading science articles because it leads to complicated dreams about research. Maybe articles about yawning studies are bigger snoozers than comparable research papers. I should get a grant to study the phenomenon!

Contagious yawning has been observed and extensively documented between humans, chimpanzees and baboons, and there is reason to believe we have a stronger response to yawns from those we care about. Although the researchers in that study assumed the relationship between family members is automatically a more caring one than any relationship with others. That may not always be the case, since family members can be quite vicious towards one another (see Rottweiler, above).

There is also a theory out there that spontaneous yawning is a natural physical response intended to cool an overheated brain. I suppose you could observe this in any classroom where SAT tests are administered. Perhaps there is also a connection between test-induced yawning and spitwad formation in 16 year olds.

Back to my dog – she is definitely not responding to all the yawn cues I’m giving her, but she has started to obsessively lick a sore spot on her left rear leg. In this case, the theory of empathetic mimicry is not holding up. Although I am feeling a strong urge right now to bite my own ankles.

What makes you yawn?

The Holiday Pageant

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

Teenager and I attend a Universalist/Unitarian church in southwest Minneapolis. It’s a place with some rite and ritual, but not too much, which is just perfect for me. Like many institutions, there is a lot going on around the holidays, but my favorite, bar none, is the Holiday Pageant.

Like most pageants, we have Mary and Joseph and shepherds. But we also have wise folk, who bring frankincense, myrrh as well as diapers and other things babies need. We have the wind and also angels on wheels who delivery the baby to the manger. And because the idea is to include as many kids as possible, we have lots and lots of angels and a wide variety of manger animals. Over the years we’ve had dragons, kittens, and bees. One year a kid brought his Golden Retriever.

You have to be least five to be in the pageant and when Teenager was little, she could hardly wait to be part of the presentation. On the first Sunday of pageant sign-up I asked her what part she would like to play. She responded by asking what she could be, so I trotted out the litany of options for her. “You can be an angel, you can be Mary, you can be a wise one, you can be a shepherd….” I didn’t even get to finish the sentence before she said “I want to be a leopard.” Sure she had misheard me, I said “Did you mean shepherd?” Nope, she had said leopard and she meant leopard.


Leopard it was. I splotched golden brown paint onto a black sweatshirt and sweatpants and we borrowed a fuzzy tail and ears from a friend. I know I’m her parent, but even so, she was absolutely the cutest thing. As all the animals trooped through the sanctuary that morning, there she was, waltzing up the aisle, swishing her tail back and forth. She completely fit into the menagerie of the manger that day.


In following years, she played a wise one twice (she had me make her a Mulan costume for this), an angel and finally she was old enough to play an angel on wheels, for which she wore all black and rode her scooter. When she was 10 she decided she was old enough to retire from the pageant, so now I sit and watch other children play these parts every holiday season. But I always see her in my mind’s eye, in her leopard outfit, completely sure that she fits into the pageant as well as anyone else.

When have you been the one to add an unexpected twist?

Scandinavian Saudade

Today’s guest blog comes from Bill in Minneapolis.

I was standing in line yesterday at Ingebretsen’s, the 90-year-old Scandinavian market on Lake Street, as I have for at least 40 Christmas seasons. There were about 35 people in front of me in line and at least as many behind. Now, I hate standing in line. There is almost nothing I want badly enough to warrant standing in a long line. But, as I waited, I suddenly realized I was enjoying myself– enjoying the understated camaraderie and the people watching. I was having such a good time that, when my number was almost up, I considered trading with someone else further down the line.

I’ve thought about why I might have reacted so uncharacteristically, for me, and I think it’s because Ingebretsen’s at Christmas is one of the last outposts of a kind of Christmas I remember from my very early childhood and a kind of Christmas that has mostly vanished. I may be projecting here, but I suspect a lot of the others standing in line were feeling the same way. None of the other customers were under 50. We all came, presumably, from families where lutefisk, Swedish meatballs, Swedish sausage, pickled herring, sylte, and the like were de rigueur at the holidays and we find ourselves struggling to hold on to customs that have mostly fallen away. I noticed that, as I waited my turn, almost no one was buying lutefisk. Even 30 years ago, everyone there would have been buying at least a little.

Lutefisk is hardcore. When I was young, Christmas Eve dinner always included lutefisk and Swedish meatballs as well. There always seemed to be anxiety surrounding the preparation of the lutefisk– whether it would be overcooked or “just right”. The distinction always seemed moot to me.

My dad was born in Robbinsdale and spent his whole life there. My father’s parents lived about 2 blocks away from where I grew up. His only brother was unmarried at the time and lived with them. My grandfather was born in Sweden and my grandmother was half Swedish and half Norwegian. All their friends were either Swedish or Norwegian. When I was very young, the universe was Scandinavian.

I remember that any social gathering with my grandparents also included a number of close friends and assorted unattached bachelors and maiden aunts, all of whom had last names that ended with -son or –sen. I think of those early social gatherings whenever I hear this:

I was the only child in our immediate family group. That meant that Christmas in our family was essentially adult centered. That, in turn, meant that it was primarily focused on the dinner, or on the run-up to the dinner. No presents were ever opened until the dinner was done and the plates cleared. It was excruciating to be the only kid. I had lots of time and opportunity to observe.

Most of the Christmas traditions I remember have fallen away. The lutefisk is gone for certain. My kids, who are adults themselves, know next to nothing about Christmas as I remember it. It has been assimilated into the general commercial culture. The tang and comfort of reenacting the rituals of a distinct tribe are largely vanished. I came along at the end of that chain of tradition and when I’m gone, it will be gone from our family completely.

Once again, I may be projecting my own sentiments, but that’s the undercurrent I felt as I stood waiting my turn at Ingebretsen’s. Beneath the festivity, beneath the joy at finding common ground, a kind of wistfulness that the Portuguese call saudade.

What tribal rituals will you be among the last to observe?