Category Archives: Stories

On the Wall

As I was turning the corner after leaving the library, I saw a man walking his big dog. Only the big dog was walking up on the retaining wall along the sidewalk.  He was walking very steadily on the wall, which was about 2 feet high, negotiating the corner with ease.

I slowed down and called out my car window to the man, asking if his dog likes all retaining walls or just this one. He laughed and said “all walls, but this is his favorite”.  He said to have a good day and I drove off.

Tell me about your favorite circus memory!

Serial Bliss

Today’s post comes to us from Minnesota Steve.

There aren’t many things better than discovering a great book, a book so good you hate to turn the last pages because you never want it to end. One thing that is better is discovering that the great book you just finished is one in a series written by the same author. The pleasure you are feeling is repeatable.

One afternoon when I was about ten I discovered a book of stories by Arthur Conan Doyle in the Ames Public Library. The first of them, “A Scandal in Bohemia,” introduced me to the complicated figure of Sherlock Holmes and to the thrill of reading mysteries. When I understood there were more Holmes stories, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

There is a lot to like about book series. You can start subsequent books in the series knowing you like that author’s style. You often go into subsequent books already knowing some of the characters and the setting. Series offer writers the chance to develop themes in depth and do a better job of telling stories. When I begin a book by a new author I don’t know if I will eventually feel the time I spent with the book will be rewarded. When you are chewing your way through a good series, that isn’t an issue.

I’ve just begun exploring a new series. Following exhortations from my daughter, I just read the first novel in Louise Penny’s beloved Three Pines series. Penny’s crime novels feature charming Canadian locales and the comforting presence of Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Louise Penny has a warm and whimsical view of life and people. While her novels are driven by the need to explain a murder, the people who fill her books are human and mostly likable. Penny’s vision is deeply rooted in community. My daughter enjoys Penny’s humor. I was surprised to find so many “Easter eggs” in the form of unexpected observations about life and people. The series currently includes 15 books. Penny adds about a book a year. When my daughter met Louise Penny last year at a Detroit book signing event, she was not surprised to find Penny is modest, witty and gracious . . . just the sort of person who would write such appealing novels.

I’ll have more to say about good book series in the Comments section.

What book series have you enjoyed? What did you like about them?

OH, sIT cLOSE!

At my mother’s residence (and nursing home) several weeks ago, she and I attended a concert in the Main Dining Room, where there is a baby grand piano. A collection of string quartets (and one trio) were performed by students from St. Mary’s University String Festival – a 10-day music camp for middle and high school musicians. 

The campers attended concerts of the Minnesota Beethoven Festival, whose dates coincided with the camp dates, and a concert performed by the St. Mary’s faculty – aka the Lark Quartet. The students also gave two concerts, one as community outreach that acted as their dress rehearsal, which is what Mom and I saw.

I wasn’t sure if Mom would last the entire concert, and in order to position us with an “escape path”, we sat to the far left, but ended up quite close to the First Violin. Now that I think of it, I doubt if she had ever sat so close to a performer before. The first few offerings by the young musicians went well enough. Just when I thought she might be falling asleep, she sat up a little straighter and looked at me out of the corner of her eye – she was REALLY enjoying this, and was enthralled with watching whomever was in the first chair position. Not only did she last the entire hour-long concert, she talked to the students as they came around to greet us afterward, and said over and over how she had never seen anything like it before. She was charmed, and so were they.

I remember at the end of my first summer in San Francisco, I got to see the traveling Broadway show Hair, twice in one week. The first time was with tickets acquired in the usual way, and we were in the second balcony so got to see, essentially, an overview. Two days later my roommate and I were offered tickets by her friend who could not attend – these were in the Third Row Center… I will never forget this experience as long as I live.

When have you seen a performance “up close and personal”?

Which do you generally prefer – an overview, or a close-up experience?

Full Moon Dream

I’m driving down the interstate and am drowsy. I jerk awake and it seems as if I am on a different road.  It is still two lanes in my direction (I feel like I’m going south) but there aren’t many street lights.  Seems more like a more rural highway.  I’m not sure how I could have gotten onto this road.  I see flashing lights in the distance and as I come to a stop, I see a grisly accident on my right.  It’s two mangled cars, but up on the hillside along the road, as if the intensity of the crash flipped them up onto the hill.

There are several cops and also mechanics at the stop. One of them uses a catapult-type contraption and shoots a spherical object up into the sky.  I’m not sure what it is.  While I sit in my car, I suddenly here a bang and feel something drop behind my head and catch in my hair.  I look up and there is a small hole in the ceiling of my car, about ¾ of an inch.  I get out of my car and show the hole to the cops and mechanics.

Suddenly I’m in a car repair shop and there are two mechanics telling me that it will take 30 days for them to get to the car and they’ll call me when it’s repaired. I tell them that they should call me when they are ready to work on it because I’m not leaving the car with them for 30 days.  They consult a bit and then say “well, if you can wait, we’ll do it right now.”   Then I’m rolling over and hitting the alarm.

As I’ve mentioned before, I subscribe to the “detritus swirling around in your subconscious” theory of dream interpretation, however for this particular dream, I’ve got nothing.

What do you think my dream means?

First Day of School

The other day I came upon one of the most charming news clip ever:  someone from MPR had interviewed Kindergarten Alumni (aka, First Graders) about how to survive the first day of kindergarten. It is part of a story by Elizabeth Shockman, “Five Tips for Kindergarteners’ FIRST Day of School”, with content actually aimed for their parents.

In a video by Derek Montgomery,

“We asked first graders from Duluth, MN, what advice they had for this year’s kindergarten class.”

These were the topics the kids were asked about:

Friends:  how do you make them?

Food!  What’s on the menu?

Is it scary?

What about rules?

I will personally never forget my first day of kindergarten – as a teacher, that is. Boy, was I nervous! It all went fine, apparently – once I was able to pry them out of their parents’ arms. I eventually managed to get all forty of them to sit down in their seats – at seven little tables with forty-odd little chairs. They would have received their personalized box of crayons, and tried them out on some paper handout I would’ve prepared. Some of them would have been able to write their names – wish I knew what percentage. (This was 1970, so most of them would not have been to a pre-school or day care.) I would have directed one table at a time to take the crayons, when finished, to their “cubbies” – their special place to keep their things. I would have tried herding them to the carpet area for a story, sung some songs, and had recess outside in our own private little courtyard. I wish I could remember more.

Do you have any memories about your first day of kindergarten? (You can use the questions above to jog your memory…)

How about memories of a first day of any new school year?

My Smart Kitty Boy

I’ve told the tale of Zorro joining our household before but I’m not sure I have ever told about how smart he was.  Here’s one story of his intelligence.

Zorro was a scratcher. I’ve known a lot of cats over the years (other people’s cats) and no one could scratch like Zorro.  And he scratched everything: sofa, beds, tables, piano bench, speakers.  Everything.  I tried every technique you can think of to re-direct him.  Multiple kitty scratching posts, catnip spray (to entice him to the posts), cans with pennies, squirt bottles, double-sided tape, aluminum foil, bitter apple spray.  I even tried little shields that you put onto the kitty’s claws.  Take it from me, don’t try this.  You’ll get damaged doing it and within 24 hours, the kitty will have chewed half of them off.

I know that de-clawing a cat is an awful thing to do. I know exactly what they do and I know that many vets will not do the procedure.  I had a long talk with my vet and as much as I loved Zorro, it was coming down to keeping Zorro without claws or having to find Zorro a new home.  This was a terrible decision and I flip-flopped back and forth for over a month.  But he was literally scratching his way through the house.  The day I caught him scratching the piano leg (ignoring the kitty post that was 12” from him), I knew I had to act.

Suffice it to say that it was a rough surgery and he ended up staying at the vet two extra days so that they could keep him contained and quiet. After he got home, he limped for two weeks, breaking my heart with every step.  I knew I was going straight to kitty-owner’s hell.  Then one afternoon, I was standing in the kitchen and from where I was located, I could see Zorro up on the buffet in the dining room, but he didn’t see me.  He jumped down and walked toward the kitchen with no limp whatsoever.  As he crossed the threshold into the kitchen, he looked up and saw me; he immediately sat down and lifted up his “sore” paw.  I snorted at him and told him he was busted; he must have heard my intonation or maybe he just knew the gig was up.  He never limped again.

So all those folks who think cats aren’t smart because they can’t be trained like a dog, I say, you didn’t know Zorro!

Have you ever been scammed?

Forgive Me, Harry

Today’s post comes to us from our own Minnesota Steve.

Harry Truman and I had a short conversation in October of 1963. Truman was then 79, retired and living in Independence, Missouri. He was flown to Grinnell College to make a few appearances. Truman showed up at the class I was taking on American Constitutional History. He spoke briefly, then asked if any of us had questions.

I did. Although I used to suffer panic attacks when asking a girl for a date, I felt oddly calm as I queried the former president. “The bomb we dropped on Hiroshima demonstrated the awesome lethality of atomic weapons. I wonder why the second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Couldn’t we, instead, have just obliterated an uninhabited atoll? Wouldn’t that have made the point we were trying to make?”

I wasn’t trying to be a smartass, but Truman thought I was. He shouted a bewildering collection of disconnected phrases. I heard “saved half a million American lives,” but the rest wasn’t clear. Truman was pissed off, and he didn’t hide that. Mercifully–for both of us–the bell rang to signal the end of the class. Truman exited the classroom still roaring at me.

I’ve occasionally told the story of that meeting, offering it as an example of how communication can fail. I was not proud of having caused Truman distress. But neither was I ashamed of my question. I meant well. It wasn’t my fault that the man from Missouri misunderstood me.

And yet I now do feel I was at fault. My question was sure to strike him as impudent, for I totally failed to recognize how often he had been criticized for using atomic weaponry. I failed to consider context.

The decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan was made in the context of the most difficult war this country had ever experienced. For several desperate years, the outcome of that war was in doubt. Even when it was clear the United States would prevail, informed observers calculated that defeating Japan would incur terrible loss of American and Japanese lives. Experts predicted that the invasion of the Japanese homeland would be one of the bloodiest events in world history.

The decision to create the bomb had been made in fear and desperation. Truman’s deployment of the bomb was based in part on the hope that using a devastating new weapon might save lives by showing Japan that continued fighting was futile. Plus, I wonder if he ever grasped the shocking destructiveness of the new weapon.

The world was entirely different when I stood to ask my question of the retired president. By 1962, World War II was a distant memory, a war which the US had won. It was common knowledge in the 1960s that the Soviet Union and the United States would destroy each other and much of the civilized world if Cold War tensions triggered the deployment of atomic bombs. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, just a year before Truman visited my class, the world narrowly avoided a nuclear holocaust.

Truman and I experienced a clash of contexts. He was used to people damning him for using the bomb. Of course, he regarded my question as another insulting attack. How could he not? I was working from an ethical context. That was only possible because I had the luxury of viewing Truman’s decision as an ethical issue that only arose after the great conflict had been resolved. When I spoke up, the fear of losing the war was gone, replaced by fear of the bomb itself.

I’m sorry for the misunderstanding, Harry. You were a good man and a good president. I should have said so the one time we spoke. Please forgive me.

When have you regretted a failure of communications?

Is it fair to judge earlier leaders who made decisions that look wrong in light of modern realities and evolved values?