Category Archives: Stories

Reduced, Reused, Re-Reused

Today’s post comes to us from Clyde.

I am aware, in a way few people are, of an historical change. An age died in America, with some very few small pockets left, in about 1957-1960. This age started thousands of years ago in Europe and came to America with the first immigrants, although I suspect the Native Peoples practiced it.

I call it the Age of Reduced, Reused, Re-Reused

It was an age by necessity of self-sufficiency. Time Team, a British archaeology show I enjoy, often discovered how even the Romans would reuse, as did the stone age and iron age peoples. The age died slowly. In the early and mid 19th Century people recognized it was passing. Thoreau and Emerson commented on its dying. Thoreau’s Walden experiment was to some extent about self-sufficiency. His cabin was built of reused materials. I think the experimental communities of that era that interest Bill were strong on self-sufficiency in reaction to this change.

In much of rural America the age was still very much alive through the depression and the two post-war eras. I lived it as a child beside my parents and our neighbors. We lived reduced lives, reduced in the material sense. Ready cash was rare. Toys were few and often handmade. It is the reuse and re-reuse part that strikes me now.

I showed you awhile back me wearing a hand-me-down coat from my sister. In most of the pictures of me before the age of about 12 I am wearing baggy clothing cut down as best my mother could from my brother’s clothes, who was 7 years older than me. People gave my mother old woolen coats, as all coats were then, which she cut in strips and hooked or braided into rugs. My sister still has a rug or two. Her quilts were made of recycled cloth or from remnants she purchased in bundles from Sears Roebuck. The only things she threw away to be dumped on our rock pile were a few cans and bottles. No foodstuff was tossed.

However, it was in the world of my father where I was more aware of the reusing and re-reusing. In the early 50’s people in town were giving up their backyard sheds and now too-small garages. We would demo them, often with other men from the valley. Once we brought one home whole, but I do not remember how. It was my job to remove the boards as carefully as possible. From an early age another of my jobs was to straighten the not-too-rusted nails to reuse. It is a tricky business which gave me a few purple fingernails. We shared the lumber and nails with others or used it to build our own sheds. We built a large machine shed using only recycled wood for the walls, not the roof.

And there were the vehicles. In my very early youth many jokers could be seen around the valley. Jokers were old trucks cut down and rebuilt to serve as tractors or utility vehicles. The header picture is my rendering of the joker my father and my uncle built out of an old logging truck when we lived in the Superior National Forest. The joker moved us down to our farm. After I drew this as best I could from memory, a clearer picture emerged in my memory of a shorter box and chains hanging on it and lots of grease. But you get the idea. This was our tractor for the first year or two we had the farm. Then my father bought a 1923 Farmall and overhauled it, three times. Compare that with Ben’s picture of his tractor in his most recent blog. I am, of course, envious of that tractor of his. That joker became the frame for our all-purpose heavy-duty trailer, which hauled our hayrack, logs, and things like rocks in a box built for it.

By the way, I long thought joker was a local term. However, my research says it was widely used.

The men of the valley in my childhood had many skills, or they traded them. My father had a buddy Martin, who was a genius with engines, but weak at carpentry, plumbing, and electricity, which my father could do well. Martin was often in our workshop working on our vehicles or rebuilding engines of older cars to sell.

Let me tell you the story of our 1936 Chevrolet four-door sedan, which was our family car until about 1953, with its suicide back doors and with both front and back pneumonia holes.

At that point Martin overhauled the engine and transmission while my father cut it down into a pseudo-pickup, always called the puddlejumper.

When I was 12 my father took me down in the mowed hayfield and showed me the basics of how it drove differently than the Farmall. I then spent an hour or more driving around practicing the techniques of using a stick shift.

A few years later the engine died for sure. Now my father turned the box on the back into a dumping trailer, with a hand crank to elevate the front of the box to dump it. I have a story about that, but I will let it pass.

Such men and women still exist in very small numbers, often in the most rural places. Otherwise the only reuse and re-reuse commodity I can think of are children’s clothing passed from family to family.

In 1960 we started to talk about planned obsolescence. The last two years have shown how weak we are at self-sufficiency. I doubt very many people think about it in those terms.

I suspect this community is stronger than most on recycling, retaining, reusing and maybe even re-reusing. Are your roots strong on self-sufficiency?

The Donut Guy

At Cub last week, in the wee hours, I decided to go through the regular check-out instead of the self-serve.  I didn’t have a lot of items but I had several non-baggable items and those always make the self-checkout problematic.  As I was unloading the last of my stuff onto the conveyor belt, a guy started a line behind me.  He only had a couple of things including a big box of assorted donuts.  I smiled (although he probably couldn’t see it since I was masked) and said “Oh, you’re the donut guy this morning!”  He laughed and said yes.  Then he said “You know, I tried that Kato diet (that’s how he pronounced it) and I just can’t take it anymore.  I didn’t realize until now how much I love bread.”  I laughed too because when I tried keto, I didn’t make it long either for exactly the same reason.  I asked him if he wanted to go ahead of me since he just had two items and he answered no, since I already had all my items out of the cart.  We both left Cub at the same time and he said “have a great day.”  It was such a nice encounter in the pre-dawn hours.

Do you talk to strangers when you’re out and about?

Two Bits

I see in the news that Maya Angelou is going to gracing our nation’s 25-cent piece this year.  I was actually a little skeptical about this, seeing as how Harriet Tubman hasn’t made it onto the twenty-dollar bill yet and they’ve been talking about THAT for years.

But apparently there is a whole series of 2022 American women quarters planned: Sally Ride, Maya Angelou, Wilma Mankiller, Nina Otero-Warren and Anna May Wong.  While I know Sally Ride (physicist, first American woman in space), Maya Angelou (writer, social activist) and Anna May Wong (first Chinese American film star in Hollywood), I have to admit that I didn’t know the names Wilma Mankiller or Nina Otero-Warren.

Wilma Mankiller was the first woman elected as principle chief of the Cherokee Nation and a lifelong activist for Native American rights.  Her surname Mankiller is a Cherokee name (Asgaya-dihi) and refers to a traditional Cherokee military rank, like major or captain.  She was elected Principle Chief in 1985 and served very successfully for ten years.  She was Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year in 1987, was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton.

María Adelina Isabel Emilia “Nina” Otero-Warren was a woman’s suffragist, educator, politician and the first female superintendent of the Santa Fe public schools.  In her role as superintendent she advocated abolishing the practice of sending Native American children to boarding schools  and sought to integrate ethnic cultures and languages into the New Mexico school curriculum.  She became the Director of Literacy under Franklin Roosevelt and later worked to preserve historic structures in Santa Fe and Taos and continued to promote Native American arts, language and culture.

I wish I had known who they were earlier, but I suppose this is better than never knowing them.  I’ll have to make sure to get one of each of these quarters in the coming year.

Did you ever collect coins?

Never Enough Dragons

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned dragon books.  Right after that, one of them came up for check-out at the library – Here, There be Dragons by James Owens.  It’s part of a series called Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica and true to it’s title, we had imaginary creatures (dragons) on the first page. 

As the story unfolded we also got references to King Arthur, Captain Nemo, Alice in Wonderland, Sherlock Holmes, trolls, dwarves, centaurs, Pandora’s box, Stonehenge and, of course, talking badgers.  Although the story starts out in WWI London, almost all of the story takes places in the “archipelago of dreams”, a world which is apparently one of many alternative realities. 

As the first in a series, this one was a little bogged down by all the explanatory bits related by various characters, but the fascinating weaving of all kinds of myths and stories into the plot was just enough to keep me going as well as the quote: “Did he now?” said Charles as a smile began to cheshire over his face.”  That alone was enough to make me want to pick up the next volume.  And no spoiler alerts but the last chapter was worth its weight in gold, in terms of pulling together the strands of the story and leaving you with a tingling feeling that you should have known it all along.

If you could make one fantasy/imaginary place come alive, what would it be?

Misery Loves Company

“Cyril, a good judge of human mood, nudged gently at his side.  Canine body language for “I understand”.  Dogs understood misery.”

This is a quote from The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith.  It’s a fabulous little book that I’m about half way through.  But quote above is in the first chapter.  Bertie, who is seven, is disconsolate over having to attend a mostly-girls birthday part.  Cyril is the next-door neighbor’s dog.  When I read this, I was immediately reminded of a time when I was about seven and was completely heartbroken over something.  I don’t remember what the issue was but I do have a snapshot in my memory of sitting on the wide stairs of my home and crying as if there were no tomorrow. 

While I cried, our family dog, Princess (aka Princess the Wonder Dog) crept over quietly and sat down beside me.  She laid her head in my lap and I clutched her to me as I bawled.  I remember this as if it happened yesterday – the feel of her clearly sympathizing with my misery.  It’s true – dogs understand misery. 

I can’t wait to finish this book; I’m assuming there may be some other nuggets that will speak to me.

Do you remember when you found out the truth about Santa Claus?

Groutfit

On Monday YA ran an errand over lunch.   It was a short errand, so I decided to just go out in my work-from-home clothing.  Gray sweatpants and t-shirt.  At the last minute decided to throw on a sweatshirt; I have a new one that is gray with a blue-tone logo. 

YA didn’t say anything while we were out, however when we got home she said “you’re wearing a groutfit”.  Normally everything about my sartorial choices is met with YA’s disdain.  I assumed she was making the word up, a combination of grungy and outfit.  She said that it was a real word although she did not define it.

I looked it up later to see if she was just messing with me and it turns out it is a combination of gray and outfit.  And surprise surprise, apparently it is considered a chic casual trend.  You can find lots of groufit shopping opportunities online.  One of the funniest things I found was this quote:  “Dress it up with fun shoes and jewelry, or lean into groufit territory hard with some gray legging or dozy socks.”

Of course, as I think about it, I’m sure YA was just suggesting that I was all in gray, not that I was looking particularly chic!

Have you ever been accidentally trendy?

Ouch!

Today’s post comes to us from Steve.

Accidents are part of life, and kids are especially likely to take risks or do dumb things that result in injuries. One of my sister’s sons was a wild child who lit fires, jumped off garages, climbed trees, explored dangerous caves, ascended water towers and did other unsafe things. As an experiment, he once bit a wire attached to a lamp, a lamp that was plugged in. Electricity burned a hole in his tongue, sending him to a doctor’s office.

Apart from my one wild nephew, kids in my family have been remarkably prudent and accident-free. My daughter had only two accidents of note. Well, she had three if you count the time a dog bit her, but I blame the dog for that one. That accident had an unanticipated benefit. My daughter had struggled to remember which was her right and which was her left hand. After the bite she knew that her right was her “dog-bite hand,” and never again was confused about left and right.

My grandson is a good example of a kid who is naturally cautious. One afternoon he was walking with scissors in my apartment. My daughter reflexively said, “Be careful Liam!” He wasn’t running, and didn’t appreciate being cautioned. In a quiet voice, Liam responded, “When have you ever seen me not being careful?” I thought that was a nice sentence from someone who was six.

I must have had that same natural caution, for I had very few accidents in spite of living what would now be regarded a risky childhood filled with BB guns, bicycles, bows and arrows, hunting knives and many firearms. While swinging on a very tall swing set at school I used to pump for speed and then “bail out” to sail through the air. In fact, all of the play equipment I used so recklessly as a child would be banned as too dangerous by today’s child safety experts. But I never broke a bone, suffered a concussion or had a cut serious enough to require stitches.

The one exception was when my buddy Mike shot an arrow into me. When I was fourteen I discovered a dump that was heavily infested with rats. The dump, as was true of all such places at that time, was just an open hillside where garbage was strewn willy nilly on the surface. Of course, the place stank from rotting garbage. Plumes of rancid smoke wafted over the dump, making our clothing fragrant.

For reasons that escape me now, my friends and I spent many hours hunting the dump rats with bows and arrows. Although it was a pointless activity, it was challenging. The rats were smart and quick, and they rarely ventured anywhere in sight because they had a fantastic system of tunnels in the rubbish that let them travel unseen.

One day a young rat made the mistake of leaving the security of the tunnels, and it ended up running in little circles around my feet because it apparently didn’t remember where there was an opening to the tunnel complex. I always wore four-buckle black rubber boots for trips to the dump. With the rat running right around my feet I was hopping about in panic. My panic deepened when Mike came up with his bow at full draw—a bow powerful enough to hunt deer—and let loose an arrow. Mike was a superb athlete but somewhat excitable.

I’ll never forget the astonishment of looking at my foot. Mike’s arrow had gone through the boot, through the leather street shoe underneath and was now sticking up proudly like a little flag pole. I limped out of the dump and pulled off my footwear. The arrow had hit my big toe, but apart from that had done little damage.

Back home, I handled the wound the way any teenage boy would have: I kept quiet about the accident because I didn’t want my mother to explode with anxiety. But when I left for school the next day, my mother couldn’t fail to see I was limping, so she forced the story out of me. She was not mollified by my insistence that I was okay because “it was a new, clean arrow that had only been through one rat.”

Did you have childhood accidents? Have you had some close calls? Did you ever do things as a kid that you now know were stupidly risky? Do you remember any painful or unpleasant remedies for childhood mishaps?

By Any Other Name…

Names are a big deal in my business.  You have to have legal names for air ticketing, names for namebadges, nameplates for dinner seating, names on awards – sometimes one person can have four different names in these situations. 

Over the years, I’ve seen some doozies.  One couple asked for “Chief” and “Boots” on their badges – the client said no.  I’ve had requests for Princess, Houdini, Sport, even the Big Lebowski.  Several times participants have “exaggerated” their titles when they register for programs.  It’s always pretty clear when someone’s title shows up a President of their company.  I did have someone once type in “Grand Exalted Poombah” – guess he thought we didn’t really need the information and he could have some fun. 

The best name I ever came across was Waightstill Scales.  His nickname was Booger. And the company that he worked for had an award named after him since he was their top salesperson of all time.  The Booger Scales award.  And his namebadge?  You guessed it, Booger Scales.  I kid you not.  I think you’d have to be really confident to carry that name your whole life and then to give it to your son, whose nickname was Waighty.  Waighty Scales.  I swear, I am not making this up.

What’s the funniest actual name you’ve heard of someone having?

Door Stoppage

Photo credit:  The Avocado

On Friday Steve suggested a book be used for a doorstop that Clyde needed.  My very first thought was Ulysses.  I was an English major at Carleton and there were two infamous lists.  One was the short list – about 100 titles that you’d better have read before your comprehensives at the end of your senior year.  Then there was the long list – this was about 500 titles – that the English department thought you should read if you wanted to be truly well-read.  I know, I know, incredibly  presumptuous.  I got copies of these lists in my sophomore year and kept them for years.  As you can imagine, Ulysses was on that list and while most of my brain knows there is no reason I have to read this, a little bit still thinks that I should wade through Joyce.

Three years ago when I started getting rid of excess stuff, I realized I had THREE copies of Ulysses.  Unfortunately for Clyde’s needs, I got rid of all of them, along with most of the guilt that I never could get through the first chapter, much less any farther.

But it made me think about what other books I could imagine consigned to doorstop-hood.   I pulled up my reading list to look for 1-star titles that I wouldn’t mind using to keep a door open.  I started keeping this list in 2007 but didn’t start assigning stars until 2013.  I actually don’t have too many two-star titles, and next to no one-star ratings (it’s a 1-5 rating).  Life is too short – if a book isn’t shaping up, it goes back to the library (or if I actually purchased it, on a pile to be donated to the library).

I do have a few one-stars, but they bring up a secondary problem… I don’t actually remember all of them.  So here’s a short list of my one-star doorstop recommendations:

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (not even a whiff of memory about this one)
  • The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan (I know that tim loved this one, but it didn’t have enough surrealism to support an unbelievable plot)
  • Gingerbread Cookie Murder by Joanne Fluke. I kinda liked the first few and I do like the Hallmark movies made from the series, but this one stunk and the main character stepped over so many lines (moral AND legal) that I couldn’t believe it.
  • Man in the High Castle by Philip Dick. You all know I love alternate-reality future stories but this one did NOT satisfy.  Several concurrent stories, which did not ever intersect, did not wrap up  in any meaninful way and one that jut didn’t make sense.  (And in looking at the reviews of the tv series, they pretty much didn’t use 95% of the book.)
  • And then my one and only negative star title… Swamplandia by Karen Russell. I only finished this because it was a book club title.    Unbelievable set-up, unlike-able characters, tragic outcome and ending that could not happen in anybody’s reality.  There are actually good reviews of this book, but I can only say that hallucinogenics must have been involved.

Any nominees for a door stop?

Rock Bend 2021

Today’s post comes to us from tim.

this years rock bend was a solo trip for me

it had been mentioned earlier that maybe a group effort would be fun and i responded with a yes but as groups sometimes do it got lost in the shuffle

i am not as good as i could be at putting x on my calendar when i’m doing something so without a reference i signed up to do my delivery ditty on saturday night. i get dibs early because those spots tend to disappear quickly and friday and saturday nights are prime time so i had committed for 5-7 & 7-9 on saturday which would mean leaving rock bend about 4.

i looked up when it started and who was playing and discovered that the family who does a nice foot stomping version of old timey and appalachian banjo kind of stuff started things off at 12 and city mouse which is mike pengra’s band was at 1 with special guest pat donahue and then pat was to play on the little stage where krista used to work at 3.

the first group was good city mouse was great and pat donahue was a treat as an addition and pats solo performance on the songwriters symposium on the little stage was fantastic

i really like him and his songwriting talent is something i really admire

i went in packed light. i had a thermos of tea and a tea cup that’s it. i walked in 15-20 minutes early and looked to see if vs or linda might be there and not seeing them plunked down in a similar front row position to what we usually achieved. this was easy with one butt and a thermos as the required space criteria. after i got steeled in i noticed i recognized that many of the surrounding faces were familiar from years gone by.unfortunately the way these memories were tweaked was by the fact that after i was seated a bunch of folks showed up and set their folding chairs up in front of the front with no regard for the views they were blocking out who had gotten their prime spot by showing up on time and choosing unobstructed site lines.

i have a problem with the people who are so self important that they just do it and never think about what a crappy thing that is to do to someone else. bad enough on the freeway to line butters who go up to the front and cut in line in front of all us minnesota nice wimps who let them in but at a concert to block someone view is unforgivable . this was followed by an observation that maybe had been going on previously but i hadn’t noticed because of being there with a group but all around me people were in conversation while the music was playing. if the music got loud they had to raise their voices to be heard over the music. this combined with folks who stood and chatted with someone who they knew in front of a group they blocked the view of.

i felt like an old curmudgeon who was spoiling my own fun but it really bothered me

at the final ditty where pat donahue was on stage with two other songwriters i had front row seats and had talkers laughing and exclaiming and paying no attention on either side of me.  there was empty turf between me and the stage and so me and my thermos went and laid down in the grass and a couple little kids cam and the their moms and sat down closely with me ans i thoroughly enjoyed the show glad i letting the talkers back there as they continued to expound

sunday i have scheduled a football bar b que get together at my house carte blanche this year an hour before kick off so my mom at age 92 has somewhere to celebrate her football enthusiasm, she had to leave at halftime to go to another meeting called by someone who is not football sensitive. it was a good gathering and i thought about heading over to bbc afterwards but as sometimes happens these things drag on and it was 430by the time things wrapped up

too late for bbc

too late to go catch the end of rock bend

i’ll probably put an x on next year and tri it again now that i know it’s the weekend after labor day but i may be

setting myself up for misery

it was easier with friends and wine but isn’t everything

what kind of calendar are you using these days to keep yourself on track?