Category Archives: History

Higham Ferrers

When I was a junior in college, I went on a month long seminar to England, France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland sponsored by the Religion and Philosophy Departments at Concordia College in Moorhead. We studied the transition from medieval to modern in thought, literature, art, and architecture. One of our stops was Higham Ferrers, a small town in Northamptonshire noted for its memorial brasses in the church.

The most famous brass is that of Laurence St. Maur, (pronounced Seymour), a parish priest who died in 1337. The brass dates from that time, and was originally on the floor. In 1633 it was placed on a tomb about four feet off the ground. . We were able to do rubbings of the brass on black paper and gold crayons. It is six feet long and two feet wide. I managed to get mine home rolled up in my backpack, had it framed, and managed to haul it to Winnipeg, Indiana, and North Dakota in one piece. He hangs on our hallway with framed Jim Brandenburg photos. You can see the top part of the rubbing below. It was hard to get a good photo without glare.

He doesn’t look too happy. There is an inscription farther down around his chest, ornately decorated robes, and two active dogs at his feet. He doesn’t have a head dress, but I gather that many brasses did, and the brasses were often used to show the decedent’s sense of style. Animals at the feet were often symbolic of how the person died. Flowers were also popular and symbolic. I read about a brass on someone named St. Margaret of Antioch who had a dragon at her feet. I gather that she was swallowed by the Devil in the form of a dragon, and emerged from his side unscathed.

What inscriptions or symbols would you want on your memorial brass?


My home town of Luverne, MN got some press many years ago as one of the communities featured in the Ken Burns documentary The War. There is a Veteran’s nursing home, as well as a really nice military museum in the courthouse. I believe my paternal grandfather’s First World War gas mask is displayed there. He served in with the US Army Engineering Corps in France. When my cousins and I were young we would play with that gas mask and take turns wearing it. It was pretty weird and fascinating. Luverne loves its veterans.

Today I will mail an application as well as a 8 x10 photo of my father in his Second World War Army Air Corps uniform to the Luverne Chamber of Commerce so that his photo and rank can be displayed on a banner on Main Street. The Chamber is putting up 82 banners of veterans on all the lamp posts. They also do this every year for the graduating high school seniors. I think this is swell.

Any veterans in your families? Whose faces would you want to see on banners on the lampposts in your town?


This blog over the past week has given me an opportunity to talk a bit about my family. Barbara in Rivertown commented that I had rather colorful relatives. Well, I think that we all have colorful relatives. I am just blessed to come from a family that likes to gossip and tell stories about themselves.

This was particularly true of my father’s family. My paternal grandfather had 12 siblings, all of them restless, energetic, and endowed with a wonderful sense of irony. They loved to talk and tell stories about each other.

I think it takes a lot of thought and humor to be a good storyteller. You need the right voice and the sense of what is important to communicate. You also need to have a grasp of the ridiculous.

Who are your more colorful relatives? Who are your favorite storytellers? What do you think makes a good storyteller? What were your favorite stories as a child?

A Slight Misunderstanding

Wednesday night Husband and I were talking about a recent complaint that my regulatory board received about a licensee, as Husband is the new Board Investigator. It is an unpaid position that I volunteered him for because he is semi-retired and very fastidious in his work and there wasn’t anyone else to do it and he is my spouse.

He said we would need to finesse the written response to the complaint. I thought he said defenestrate the response. I was confused. Once we got that cleared up, we had a good laugh and both did some research on The Defenestration of Prague. What a strange word and even stranger concept!

What have you been “volunteered” for something by virtue of being related to someone? Have you ever wanted to be an investigator? Who or what have you wanted to throw out of a window?

Where in the World is VS?

  • Population of 22,000 but at least five large golf courses.
  • Titan Missile Museum (also known as Air Force Facility Missile Site 8 – Arizona Aerospace) – deactivated in 1984.
  • Arid Garden – flora that is local to Arizona and states with similar geological features. Open 24/7.
  • Casa Grande Ruins National Monument — dating back to the early 14th century, the monument showcases the ruins of a walled compound, remnants of a village and the irrigation system used by early farmers.
  • Fred Lawrence Whipple Observatory — once called the Mount Hopkins Observatory, but it was renamed to honor American astronomer Fred Lawrence Whipple.
  • Mission San Xavier del Bac — Completed in 1797 as part of a Catholic mission, the church is the oldest example of European baroque architecture in the area and features incredible original statues and mural paintings.

Where in the world is VS?


Keeping Warm

There have been some pretty cold temperatures this winter. I have a heavy, down coat I only wear if it is colder than -20, and a lighter but warm Columbia jacket with a lining that I wear most of the winter. Sweaters help.

I am the happy owner of three Norwegian wool sweaters, a really warm wool sweater daughter got for me in Iceland, and a thick, cable knit Irish wool sweater I got in Dublin. They all keep me nicely warm.

I went to graduate school Winnipeg, and lived there through six winters. Although I was used to cold Fargo temperatures, the winters in Winnipeg were much colder. The main reason for Winnipeg’s existence was the fur trade, and as an animal lover, it was disconcerting to go to what was known as The Exchange District and see all the stores selling fur coats and fur pelts, retail and wholesale. I could never in good conscience wear a fur coat. Wool and down keep me warm enough.

The only person I knew in Winnipeg who owned a fur coat was Vuyo, a fellow graduate student who was a refugee from South Africa. This was before the end of Apartheid. Her husband was a freedom fighter who had been killed by the South African security forces, and she had fled to Lesotho with her children and somehow ended up in one of the coldest cities in Canada. Her father was an Anglican priest, and she knew Desmond Tutu very well. She had a beautiful leopard coat she got from a friend in London, England. The friend was verbally harassed in the London streets for wearing fur, so she gave Vuyo the coat. Vuyo wore that coat without a shred of guilt, as it kept her very warm in that very cold place. She had a far different attitude about animals and their utility for humans than the rest of us did.

What is your strategy for keeping warm in the winter? What are your favorite kinds of sweaters? Have you ever known anyone who had a fur coat?

Pet Guilt

Husband is an oldest son with younger siblings, and is a real caretaker. This extends to a sense of duty that he has toward our pets. He is currently feeling very guilty because he can’t give our dog the three walks a day that he has become accustomed to. Husband just doesn’t think that vigorous indoor play is sufficient. The problem is that there is so much treacherous ice coating the sidewalks that it isn’t safe for him to walk the dog right now. He cracked his wrist last Friday by falling on the ice while walking the dog.

Kyrill is very spoiled, in terms of the dog treats he gets and the attention that he is paid, by both me and Husband. Husband carefully reads the ingredients of the treats we buy, and we seem to make weekly trips to Runnings and the pet store in search of just the the right chews and toys. I don’t remember Husband spoiling our children like this, although he was always playing with them and keeping them busy.

Husband decided to brave the ice last night and try to walk the dog. He made it half way down to block and came back home as he was afraid of falling. I am afraid that there will be terrible ice for some time, as there is tons of snow, and as the weather warms during the day it is just going to melt and then refreeze into more ice.

I heard from a friend yesterday that the city street department has sixteen vacant positions that no one will take due to a reportedly toxic work environment. I don’t foresee the city stepping up to remove the snow and ice, so Husband is going to have to deal with his pet guilt for many weeks.

How does guilt factor in how you deal with your pets? How well does your municipal government function? What are the best and worst city governments you have dealt with?


On Saturday I texted a friend the following:

Bruce, are you aware that the photo of your grandfather weeping at the signing away of the land for the dam was circulating on Reddit today? Here is the photo. It was taken in 1948 when the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation in North Dakota was pressured into signing away their land for what ultimately became the Garrison Dam.

My son tipped me off to this on Saturday morning, being aware of North Dakota history and the family history of our friend. 70,000 people had already viewed the photo by then. Another friend of mine who had no idea about my connection to the family also posted the photo on Facebook.

Bruce had no idea what Reddit was, and hoped it wasn’t a bad thing. I told him it wasn’t, and that he should let his grandchildren know, as they would understand how it worked and could help him navigate the site and see the photo and the comments.

I don’t know if I would take kindly to my family history to be trending on social media. This blog and Facebook are the only two social media platforms I belong to, and I rarely post anything on Facebook. I just keep it to stay connected to people I know who I rarely get to see.

Have you every been trendy? What social media platforms do you belong to? Have you ever visited any of the large dams built in the western US for water and land management?

Draw Two Sketches and Call Me in the Morning

Today’s post comes from Clyde

For twenty years I have been using various kinds of activities to ease my pain, especially rhythmic activities, which is why I rode a bike for so long. Which is why I drew/painted with pastels. I still don’t know if that is drawing or painting. I guess painting. However aging has taken both of those activities away from me. Life has added monumental stress and a diagnosis of migraines, which my neurologist says I have had for 30 years at least.

So I went back to art, at a much more forgiving level, sketching, in other words, at a level where I can accept the sudden jerks of my hands and my poor close range eyesight issues. I can be in a severe headache and force myself to sketch, get lost in the process, and then realize 15-30 minutes later how much lower my pain is. My neurologist is surprised by this. I pointed her towards the medical literature on it.

I sketch from photographs, some as old as 75 years. I get lost in the memory of the people, places, and events. Among my favorite are travel photographs, which I group together. So I thought I might spin off VS’s game. So can you identify, despite my poor hand where I was? Some are specific places, such as 1, 6, and 7. Or maybe you can identify the area or a similar area in 2, 3, 4, and 5. Two places should be easily identifiable to two Baboons, but then there is my weak art skill. A hint: I have only traveled in 46 states and four Canadian province.

December is proving to be a hard load to carry. How does December go for you?

Queens of Heart

On Thanksgiving morning, while enjoying my coffee and watching the parades, I discovered that there is a popular musical comedy on Broadway right now called Six – The Musical.  It’s about the six wives of Henry VIII.  Really?  Of his six wives, only one truly survived (Anne of Cleves) and came out of her marriage debacle in relatively good shape.  So now we have a musical about a wife cast aside, two wives beheaded, one wife dead from childbirth complications and his last wife, while surviving, also dead in childbirth after marrying again to a man whom history suggests only wanted her because she was the Queen Dowager.  Somehow all this death and destruction doesn’t seem like the stuff of comedic song and dance.  (Of course who would have thought the plight of five women accused of murder in Chicago would make for a compelling musical?)

If you look up “historical fiction” you’ll find definitions that all seem to include any story that takes place in the past but that’s just silly – unless it’s sci fi, set in the future, wouldn’t every book written be historical fiction after about a week in print?  I’ve always thought of “HF” was any re-working of a historical subject/figure.  Like Hillary Mantel’s book on Robespierre and Danton during the French Revolution (and all her Wolf Hall books as well).  Or King at the Edge of the World by Arthur Phillips.  Or The Other Boleyn Girl by Phillippa Gregory. And I haven’t read Nefertiti by Michelle Moran yet, but I’m pretty sure it’s mostly fiction and very little historical, since even Egyptologists admit to knowing extremely little about the ancient queen.

As these books sell well, I worry that future generations will think of the plots and characters as more historical than they really are.  Of course in looking up Six online, it looks like the plot doesn’t even attempt to portray history, so hopefully no one will come away thinking that wearing a choker to represent that you got beheaded is a meaningful fashion statement.

When was the War of 1812?