Grimm Business

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

The brothers Grimm wrote many fairy tales set in Niedersachsen, the northern part of Germany where my mother’s family came from. There is a complete travel itinerary from Hannover up to the coast where you can see the settings for many of the stories. It is called The Fairy Tale Road. The stories are not, by and large, comforting, but are, I think, important pieces of literature. I suppose that because my family is so closely associated with Bremen I always was drawn to the story of the Bremen Town Musicians. I remember reading the story in the set of Child Craft books my mother got for me in the mid-1960’s, complete with the picture of the statue in Bremen’s main square. I was really excited to see  that statue  on our May trip. Both my son and daughter in law were familiar with the story, and they were excited to see the statue, too.

20160512_120200Imagine my dismay when I printed out some travel photos and showed my coworkers the photo of the donkey, dog, cat, and rooster, all making a clamor to scare the thieves away from the farm house, and very few people had ever heard of the story! I could understand why many of our American Indian friends didn’t know the story. They felt so sorry for the animals being neglected and discarded by their owners. Perhaps I am naive, but I thought most Americans  my age with any sort of education would know of the Bremen Town Musicians. After all, 46% of  North Dakotans claim German heritage. Well, I was wrong.

I rubbed the donkey’s nose after I took the photo in the square, grateful for my parents’ enriching my life with literature.  After the dismal recognition rate from my coworkers, I vowed that any grandchildren I may have will know this story.

What stories do you think are essential for children to hear and read?




Unpacking Grandpa

Today’s post comes from Bill in Mpls

Here are pictures of my father’s father in one of his first performances as an American. He’s the one on the right. He was newly arrived from Sweden, having sailed in July, 1916 on a Norwegian-American ship, embarking from Kristiania, Norway. He was 20 years old and emigrated alone.

I say this was a performance because I see in these pictures an expression and reenactment of the mythology of America that new arrivals so frequently bring with them. My grandfather landed at Ellis Island and made his way westward from there. In America, Rickard Nilsson became Richard Nelson. I believe he had acquaintances or distant relatives in Grygla, Minnesota in the far northwest corner of the state. Sometime in the first year or so of his arrival, he traveled further west to Everett, Washington. There, or along the way to there, with a friend, he had these photos made. They were printed on postcard stock. Perhaps he sent one home to Sweden.

Almost everything I know, or think I know about this grandfather comes from physical artifacts or from peripheral research and speculation. He died when I was four years old. My father didn’t talk about him and I didn’t ask. To know him at all, I have to unpack the clues.

Even allowing for the invincibility of youth, it must have been frightening traveling across the Atlantic in 1916. German U-boat activity was heavy and being on a neutral country’s vessel was small reassurance. Over the course of the war, Germany sunk over 1300 Norwegian ships. That suggests that, despite the peril, my grandfather had strong motivations for leaving. My uncle once intimated that my grandfather had emigrated to avoid conscription into the Swedish army. Since Sweden was also neutral at that time (though it was being pressured by Germany for support), understanding the sense, if any, to that claim will require more study.

Grandfather stayed and worked for a time in Everett. I have an envelope dated December 1918 addressed to him in Everett and a business card from Everett Transfer and Feed Yard, where I assume he found work. A letter he wrote at that time (in Swedish) to the Swedish American newspaper seeks other Swedes with whom he might meet and socialize. Everett must not have been a Scandinavian hotbed. He sounds lonely and isolated.

At some point, Richard Nelson left Everett, Washington and returned to Minnesota. It was there, in Barrett, Minnesota that he met my grandmother. Like many parts of Minnesota, Barrett was heavily Scandinavian. My grandmother’s father was also a Swedish immigrant and her mother the child of Norwegians. It’s reasonable to conjecture that my grandfather was drawn to the area by the familiar, comfortable culture, the opportunity to use his native language, a chance to be his authentic self. That’s something all transplants crave.

When my grandparents married, it was in Minneapolis. My grandfather built a house for the family in Robbinsdale. He found work as a painter and in various kinds of maintenance. Most of his friends had Scandinavian last names. He had two sons, both of whom served in WWII. He finally became a naturalized citizen in 1943.

I think of him and of all my immigrant ancestors when the immigration talk gets ugly. We are all related to immigrants, some more immediately than others. At least one of us (I’m looking at you, P.J.) is an actual immigrant. We owe everything to those brave or desperate souls who picked up their lives and families and transplanted them here. We can honor them by regarding new arrivals, ones with unfamiliar customs and language and costume as kindred to our ancestors and cutting them some slack.

America at its best, at its most vital and dynamic, is always in the process of becoming something different.

What do you know about your immigrant predecessors? Any good stories?

To Fence or Not To Fence

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown

When we moved here to Winona in June, I knew one of the things I would miss most from our Robbinsdale home was the back yard, a huge “park” and garden that was lush and green and private – from trees and shrubbery as much as from the existing fencing. Imagine the adjustment to our cute little yard, most of it encased in this lovely white plastic fence!

I understand – the former owner had a young child, and what better way to keep track of him? Husband doesn’t seem to mind the fence – he’s happy trading the lawn for veggie garden no matter what. But I feel a bit like a caged animal whenever I spend time out in the yard – the fence is visually solid, not even a crack to see what might be on the other side.

Add to this the fact that upon talking to our neighbor with whom we share this fence, it turns out the fence was both poorly erected and may have been built onto his property. (Luckily this neighbor is an old friend.) At any rate, its proximity to his driveway makes snow blowing almost impossible in winter. So there is plan afoot to move said fence this fall to where it should have been built, and add the missing 4×4 posts.

But – AHA! – Husband has had another idea – what if we just eliminated that fence? Granted, he needs some fencing around the garden for the bunnies, which (thanks to tim) we have in the garage, waiting for just such a purpose. But after that, do we really need a fence?

I asked Robert Frost, who wrote “Mending Wall”:

… Before I built a wall I’d ask to know What I was walling in or walling out, And to whom I was like to give offence. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That wants it down.’…

I think it’s worth talking to Neighbor about. It may be that some fencing is in order – maybe they’re used to the privacy, too. But it might be a low fence, or just at the back of the drive where more privacy is desired. For my money, I’d like to see more open space.

Is your yard fenced? How do you feel about fences?

Coffee Brake

Today’s post comes from Clyde of Mankato

I have given into the rampant coffee culture, an invasion from foreign lands such as the Middle East, so it is my guess that Trump and the Trumpeters do not participate. Coffee was brought to Europe by Asian invaders, it seems.

In my childhood coffee was this weak watery stuff, in my house more watery than most, my mother being that thrifty. She bristled at being called cheap, which she was. Coffee would also stunt your growth.

It took my a few years into my adulthood to start drinking it, then I stopped. Coffee was made in the faculty room, a place I learned to shun, and by midmorning was over-heated – the coffee and the room. Sandy has never been able to drink it. I learned to sip it to be sociable. My daughter had sworn she would never drink coffee, as did her husband. She did not even drink it to be sociable. Now they have this fancy-schmancy coffee system and thrive on it.

So about ten years ago I started making it occasionally, then almost every day. But I seldom buy it out and about; it is expensive, and I do not like dark coffees. Starbucks is battery acid to my pallet. Then my son, a devotee of coffee who has tried roasting his own beans, clued me into two temptations: 1) blonde coffees, such as Starbucks Veranda and 2) Trader Joes, especially their Joe and their Soft and Mellow. Thrifty, if I ignore the gas to go up to the Cites to buy it. (Thrifty I call myself, never cheap.)

I made a drip pot every morning. Every so often I would press coffee. My coffee has grown a little stronger and a little stronger. Then lust set in, fueled by my daughter’s fancy-schmancy coffee maker, which allows you to make a cup at a time if you wish.

Both of my offspring extolled the virtues of grinding your own coffee. Temptation won. Last week I ordered a thrifty coffee grinder. I lust after a single cup coffee maker. However, I am finding that grinding coffee each morning and pressing it is very nice, especially out on the patio before the heat rises. Somehow each morning for the last week my blonde coffee gets a little stronger each day.

I am still coveting a the single-cup coffee maker. (But not my neighbor’s ass.) A cup at a time as I wish, easily done! Oh, my, I do sin.

However, I will have to hide the grinder this weekend. My sister and brother-in-law are coming this weekend. They go on tirades about their children and their dedication to coffee and how strong they make coffee and the money they spend. They are cheap for their children’s sake.

What do you hide from guests?



Party Insiders

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota.

We have one television, and it is in our family room in the basement. We rarely go downstairs to watch TV.  I haven’t seen any live coverage of either of the recent political conventions. I couldn’t bring myself to watch the first, and, although I identify as a Democrat, I haven’t made time to watch the second, either. My father adored Hillary Clinton, and I know he would be watching the convention were he here.

My father’s family has a long history of being Democrats. I recently discovered that my paternal grandfather’s uncles were ultra-dedicated Democrats and had pretty interesting lives.

George (b. 1869) and Martin (b. 1871) Freerks, my Grandfather Boomgaarden’s uncles, were born in Pekin, Illinois and grew up in Parkersburg, IA. They were the children of German/Friesland immigrants. English was their second language.  Neither boy attended much school as children or teens, as they had to help on the farm. Martin estimated he attended 90 days of school his whole life. Despite their lack of education, both managed to independently study for the bar exam and became lawyers in Kansas and North Dakota.

George (Gerhard) was a North Dakota delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1896 and 1900. I imagine him listening to William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech in Chicago in 1896 (“You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold”). He named one of his sons Horace Jennings Freerks, after the philosopher and the orator. George was the assistant city attorney in Wichita and ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General of Kansas around 1908. I guess Kansas was a really Republican state at the time, and George’s campaign was doomed from the start. I admire him for trying. He practiced law in Wahpeton, North Dakota with his brother, and eventually moved to Crosby, MN to be close to some iron mine investment property. He died in 1924.

Martin spent most of his professional life in Jamestown, ND. He changed his last name to Fredericks since people kept mispronouncing it as “Freaks”.  He was deeply involved in the Non-Partisan League (NPL), a socialist party that was the precursor of North Dakota’s current Democratic Party and the subject of a wonderful film documentary called Northern Lights. The NPL is the reason why we have the Bank of North Dakota and the State Flour Mill. (Our current Republican governor is pretty glad for the State Bank, even though such an institution goes against his principles, as he intends to hit up the bank for a $100,000,000 loan to address revenue shortfalls). Martin’s son was the last person in North Dakota to successfully read for the Bar and was elected a district judge. His son married Lawrence Welk’s daughter.

I have, on occasion, considered running for our local school board or maybe even the city council. I don’t know if I have the patience or the thick skin necessary to do so.  Our entire school board was voted out of office in a recall election about 15 years ago when they dared propose changing the team mascot name from the Midgets to something more politically correct. Image what might happen if I tried to initiate real and meaningful change. I might get run out of town!

 What political office would you like to run for?

What’s Your Morning Ritual?

Today’s post comes from Steve Grooms


When I worked as a writer for Democrats in the House of Representatives, our radio man was a fascinating guy named John. During a lunch break, John once announced to the gathered staff that a recent study discovered that most fatal heart attacks occur early in the morning. We wondered: Why?

“First, people brush their teeth when they get up. We have toxins in our teeth. Brushing  loosens them and sends them into the blood stream. Bingo! We drop dead still clutching our toothbrush!”

“The other thing,” John added, “is people use the toilet in the morning. A lot of people die of heart attacks while sitting on the toilet.”

The lunchroom went silent. “You can thank me later,” said John with a broad smile.

“Now there are two things you won’t be doing each morning. I just freed up a lot of precious time for you.”

In spite of John, I continue to have morning rituals. Older people find that rituals are comforting and they help us organize our lives. My rituals probably differ from yours.

Unlike most baboons, I am retired, I live alone and I have no pets.

Morning begins when I fire up my desktop computer. I don’t sleep much, so I’m often on the computer by 4 or 5 AM. The world outside my windows is dark, and no birds are yet filling the air with their tunes. I enjoy the radio while I’m at the computer, usually music on Folk Alley or NPR’s Morning Edition. I wear headphones to avoid disturbing the sleep of my upstairs neighbors.

As I drink black coffee I study my internet browser (Google’s Chrome). I’ve set Chrome up to display 16 web sites that I have “bookmarked” for easy access. I always begin with the site on the far left side of the bookmark bar. That’s NBC News, which I use as my basic source of national and international news.

After reading interesting stories there I move to the next site to the right, which is the online version of the Washington Post. That’s a great site. I can easily spend an hour reading all the news, op/ed and lifestyle stories in this (paperless) paper.

The last thing I read on the Post site is my favorite: Carolyn Hax’s column of personal advice. I never used to read advice columns. Carolyn’s column starts with letters in which readers describe their screwed up lives and dilemmas. Then Carolyn speaks up to analyze the situation and propose solutions. Damn, she’s good!

Next comes the online version of the Star Tribune. I read that closely. While my body is in Oregon much of my heart is in Minnesota. Following that, I read the online version of The Oregonian. That paper delivers weak writing in a frustrating format. I rarely waste much time with it.

Having read news stories for maybe two hours, I move right again to the link for Trail Baboon. That’s my treat after studying so many depressing news items.

Next comes the NPR site, a highly varied compendium of stories running on NPR. After that I read MinnPost. Next is Politico, a political news magazine that is often boring but not always. I finish my computer time by indulging my weakness for news about the Minnesota Vikings. I blush to confess I read five web sites that talk about nothing but the team. There are, I suppose, worse vices.

All that computer time accounts for maybe three hours of my morning. Then I move to the second big event of the day: writing my letter. Since I’ve mentioned this often before, I won’t say much here. In 1999 two things happened at about the same time. An old friend lost her husband to cancer. My marriage ended.

The two events merged in an odd way. My friend was living in a valley outside a tiny town in extreme southeastern Minnesota. While she had a few friends, she was an outsider living in a highly conservative corner of the state. I began writing daily email letters to her to soften her grief and chat about progressive politics. What I didn’t understand for many years was that my friend was handling being a widow well, but I needed the correspondence as a way of processing my own grief. I write a letter each morning, even on days when I can barely stand thinking about my life. Writing those letters is healthy for me. Knowing I “have” to write them encourages me to think more about events in my life, living a little more completely.

My letters give me a reason to reflect on each passing day and to seek meaning in the mundane events of my life. I often roam the back alleys of my history, relishing old memories and rediscovering myself. Just as singers need to sing and athletes need to exercise, writers need to write. The daily letters have become a crucial connection with that part of me.

Do you have a morning ritual?


Sounds of Winona

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown 

I’ve noticed since moving that there are lots of new sounds here at the new Winona homestead. While there isn’t as much traffic noise (sirens, planes, and freeway) as there was in the city, there are number of things that get my attention:

  1. 8 a.m. bells from St. John’s Catholic Church just a couple of blocks away, not to mention noon and 6 p.m. bells as well! If we’re not already up by the 8:00 bonging, by golly we are up when they finish.
  2. The truck of a neighbor across the alley who leaves at 6 a.m. – have only met this person to wave at. There is also a motorcycle that comes through the alley (we are RIGHT ON the alley) often enough. No more distance between us and the garbage trucks, either.
  3. A mournful dog who is vocal when his people are late getting home from work. He belongs to  our next door neighbor to the north, who is, happily enough, someone we know from folk dancing here in the early 80s! Was amazing the first time we looked out the window and said “Isn’t that Gerard??”
  4. Gerard’s cat, who was formerly invited in to what is now our house, and lets us know she ought to be allowed in ANY time she wants.
  5. A plethora of as yet unidentified songbirds (plus the usual robins, cardinals, woodpeckers).
  6. Train whistles (luckily, during waking hours) – the trains aren’t as close as they were in Robbinsdale (back yard), but they’re more frequent.
  7. There are even a few sounds that I had a hard time figuring out – the “clucking” I thought I heard periodically (thinking someone on the block had chickens) turned out to be our refrigerator when it goes back on. Then a low hum in the middle of the night, just once, had a very mysterious quality to it – I even got up and walked outside to see if I could identify it, but never did. Something on the river?

There are actually some sounds from Robbinsdale that I miss, particularly the chipmunks and some of the birds.

Where have you lived that was a location rich in sounds?


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