Category Archives: Family

Happy Birthday, Dad

Today’s post is by Steve Grooms.

February 20 is my dad’s birthday. Or, I think it is. I used to have documents about such things, but I have moved too often, and I’ve lost much of the paperwork I once had. I once asked my mother if Dad had been born on the 20th.  She said, “George was born on the day George Washington wasn’t.” Mom sometimes talked like Gracie Allen.

My sister recently wrote that my dad and I were exceptionally close. We probably were, although I regret some differences that divided us. My father was socially and politically conservative. He was distinctly uneasy in the presence of assertive women. He came from a family that uncritically endorsed military service. Dad served in WW2, although his experience left him troubled about his government and the military. My hatred of the Vietnam War became a real problem for my dad. All in all, I think we were closer than almost any father and son pair I’ve seen.

We were both divided and united by a love for hunting and fishing. Dad taught me how to fish, and he introduced me to pheasant hunting. In the end, I drifted away from fishing the way he did it, and my style of hunting pheasants was totally unlike his. I tried to disguise those differences, for I didn’t want to hurt him. He chose to emphasize our common interest, although I’m sure it sometimes bothered him that I went my own way.

My dad was a storyteller. I could fill several books with stories he told me on an astonishing array of topics. I keep and treasure so many stories from him that I sometimes wonder if I have forgotten anything he told me. My memory is actually porous and fallible in many areas. My memory for stories, however, is awesome, and my dad shared an amazing treasure trove of stories with me. My love for stories is the most obvious of his legacies to me.

Several years ago I decided to write a book about my parents’ lives. I spent six years researching, writing and editing book. I began the project believing I understood my parents, especially my father. But as I retrieved more and more memories and contemplated them, I realized that my original sense of my dad was shallow and often wrong.

One odd discovery was learning that my dad was so handsome that women sometimes had trouble keeping their composure around him. This just is not a way people think about their parents. As I worked on the book I encountered stories about his impact on women. One reason I missed this so long was my dad didn’t care what women thought of him. He was a one-woman man.

Another surprise: the better I got to know my dad, the more I respected him. I have never met a man with as much integrity. I know his many flaws and shortcomings. He had a terrible childhood that left marks. I’ve witnessed his worst moments of weakness. I know what terrified him and what gave him hope. In the end, he stands as one of the finest men I’ve personally known. That, believe me, was a surprise.

Why do I write this now? When I was dating after my divorce I was surprised to learn that many children don’t know much about their mothers and even less about their fathers. All the women I got to know well had adult children. Those kids, without exception were absolutely clueless about their parents’ lives. Young people are usually too busy with their own lives to think much about their parents. That is surely the norm, and it was probably foolish of me to expect anything else.

When I understood my parents better I was moved by the drama of their story. I continue to wonder if they were exceptional that way. Perhaps most couples that seem boring actually are boring. Or perhaps many people lead fascinating lives but nobody ever notices their moments of great courage and passion.

Do you believe you know your parents well?

Rez Cars Explained

Last week was a very trying one for us, as Husband’s truck froze in the extreme cold up on the Indian reservation and wouldn’t start. It was -36  with -45 windchill Thursday  night.  He planned to come home Friday morning, but there was no way that truck would start in such cold.

Husband  works in the main town on the reservation, where Tribal headquarters and the biggest school and the  medical services are. There are two much larger towns, Minot and Williston, about 70 and 80 miles away respectively, which  are not on the reservation and offer all necessary services. Minot even has a  university.  There are also smaller,  non-reservation towns within 30-50 miles that also have a wide variety of services.

After unsuccessfully trying to get the truck started, and even putting in a new battery with the help of a friend who works in Tribal maintenance and who has a degree in car mechanics, Husband phoned the number for road side service affiliated with our car insurance.  The nice insurance person in Tennessee regretfully informed him that after phoning every tow service in the region, none would take the job.  No one wanted to drive to the reservation. There is no tow service in the reservation town.  There is no auto repair shop, either.

Our friend helped Husband get an electric magnetic heater, like a heating pad but really hot, to place under the hood.  They plugged it into an outside outlet where  Husband stays.  Husband got some nasty frostbite on his pointer fingers while getting it all set up. The heater sat on the engine block all day. I drove up to the reservation later in the afternoon on Friday. It was after I arrived that Husband and friend  discovered that the outlet on the outside of Husband’s place didn’t work, so the heater hadn’t heated up at all.  Once they switched it to another outlet it started working.

Since we weren’t sure that the heater would work and unfreeze the engine, and since it was evening, Husband and I drove the 90 miles back home through oil field traffic.   A few hours later our friend and his wife phoned to say the truck started. They drove it to their place and got up at intervals in the night to start it and their vehicles as well.  We drove back to the reservation on Saturday morning and retrieved the truck and drove home again, this time through snow.

I always wondered why the Native Americans  we know have so many vehicles in various states of disrepair.  Now I know. When you have no auto repair shop, you have to fix them yourself, and when you find one that works and is easy to fix, you keep driving it, no matter how junky it looks.  You also rely on friends and family to help with rides or loan you a vehicle that works. If you can’t fix your vehicles you leave them where they are since no one will come and tow them away.  We are eternally grateful to our maintenance friends, and offered to till their garden in the Spring with our big tiller.  They accepted the offer. It is all a part of helping each other out.

What have you learned about lately? What are some mysteries you would like solved?

MMR

There was a small blurb  in our local paper yesterday about an outbreak of mumps in our city’s middle school. The city Facebook page has a number of antivac and provac responses to this crisis, as crisis it is, as there are several immune compromised students who cannot go to school because they are at risk for terrible infection.

I remember having Rubella, Mumps, Roseaola, and Chicken Pox. Husband had all those and Scarlet Fever as well.  Both our children had the Chicken Pox.  There are many individuals receiving Developmental Disability services in our region because they had mumps or measles or some other childhood illness in the 1950’s that resulted in intellectual disabilities.   Our grandson is now recovering from RSV, and I am thankful his parents are confirmed vaccinators.

What memories do you have about childhood illnesses?  How do you feel about vaccinations?

Grocery Store Guilt

I am aware that being a “Reward Member” at my grocery store  isn’t just a way to sell me discounted gasoline and get me in on sales. It is a way to track what we purchase and get data on the buying trends of customers.

Husband and I probably  purchase of some of the more exotic items at the Cash Wise store here.  Who else buys all the celery root in the produce department two days running?  Cake yeast? I  have bought every pack the store had  each week for the past month.

There is a limit, though, on how much celery root and cake yeast a person can store. We tried to grow celery root in the garden last summer but it didn’t work. We use it in soups and stews and roast meats in place of celery.  I found 14 lovely celery roots at the grocery store last week and diced them, blanched them,  and froze them. We have enough now until next winter. The store hadn’t stocked them for ages, and I was delighted to find them. I also have enough cake yeast to last for months. Now I feel irrationally guilty and anxious.

I worry that  because of our exuberant purchasing,  the store will stock all sorts of celery root and cake yeast and it will all go bad because we don’t need to buy any.  That will make me feel guilty because I hate the thought of food going to waste.  I also worry  that due to poor sales of celery root and cake yeast, the store won’t stock them anymore after this, and when I need them I won’t be able to find them.

I realize as I type this just how ridiculous this is, how very little I really have to worry about, and what a lovely life I have. I guess that is the hallmark of anxiety-the irrationality of it all. I have baked for years using dry yeast, and I can always use regular old celery in a pinch.  I think the marketing people who track our purchases will find us hard to fathom.

What would someone tracking your purchases surmise about you?  Would it be an accurate reflection of who you are?

Adventures in Moving

Husband moved yesterday on the reservation from one quarter of a double wide trailer to  half of a double wide trailer right next to his work.  The old trailer, where he has lived for four years, was across from the casino and right next to a gravel pit, so it was pretty dusty.  The fridge didn’t work, and he kept his food cold in a camping cooler. It was sort of like a studio apartment with a bathroom.  Now he has a bedroom and a bathroom and a kitchen. The fridge works. He has a dishwasher and a washer/dryer.

The trailer set up is thus: two double wide trailers are attached to one another end on end, one intended as a sober house for men, and one for women.  There was never enough staff to make the sober houses functional.  They connect in the middle in a laundry and furnace room.  Husband and I were moving things into the laundry room when we realized that the door had closed and we were locked in. We had no key . There was no one nearby to hear us call for help.  We were possibly locked in the room forever.  Neither of us had a phone.  Luckily, there was a kitchen knife above the washing machine, and I pried the lock open. It was a very frightening two minutes.

Tell about some of your moving adventures.

 

The Bad Dream

I had a nightmare last night. Don’t need to go into it but it combined two things I’m not crazy about and I even know what I’ve seen/thought recently that most likely triggered it.  However at 3:25 in the morning, you just want to go back to sleep.  I turned on the TV and pulled up Laura with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews and Clifton Webb.  I know the first 10 minutes by heart because that’s about how long it takes me to fall back to sleep with it playing.  I didn’t make it 10 minutes in this time.

How to you deal with bad dreams?

Rituals

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve.

The debut broadcast of CBS Sunday Morning aired January 28, 1979. Because I was a fan of the host, Charles Kuralt, I made a point of watching that first show. I’ve seen many of the broadcasts that have aired in the 40 years since. While my life is mostly unstructured and variable, I try to catch that show. It pleases me to have something in the week that is fixed and predictable. Watching it has become a ritual for me.

Most of us have rituals. They can be annual (like how we celebrate Christmas) or monthly, weekly, daily or something altogether different. If I can believe his songs, a ritual for folksinger Greg Brown is drinking coffee in the morning. My parents couldn’t go to sleep until they had told each other, “I’ll see you in the morning.” Some people meditate. Many folks couldn’t feel right about a week that does not include going to church.

For several decades our family had just one ritual. On Saturday nights we gathered to enjoy the Prairie Home Companion broadcast. We were heartbroken when Garrison quit—was it two times or three?—and thrilled when he came back. I used to walk dogs with a woman who was close to Garrison. She assured me that he needed to do the show as badly as I needed to hear it.

In 2000 I acquired a puppy, an exceptionally affectionate English setter. Katie and I both needed exercise, so we adopted the daily ritual of hiking the off-leash dog park that lies between Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling. We had many friends there, human and canine. Our route took about an hour to walk. I used my time in the park to reflect on my life. I couldn’t afford a therapist with an office and a couch, so I relied on the park walks to help me sort out my past and make plans for the future. Katie and I walked that park virtually every day of her life for eleven years.

Like many fans of Trail Baboon, listening to The Morning Show was once an essential ritual for me. I remember thinking I couldn’t bear starting the day without the help of Dale and Tom. Even so, I always knew that someday the show—wonderful as it was—would come to an end. Shows do not live forever, although The Simpsons carries on as ever. The LGMS remains one ritual I’ve never been able to replace.

What role does ritual have in your life?