Saturday, October 31, 2009
For the last couple of days, I’ve been working on updating my husband’s family tree. His family had a reunion back in 1988 (just Tom’s brothers and sisters and their families) and a family tree was printed up at that time. Are you ready for this? In those 21 years, from 1988 to 2009, Tom’s immediate family has grown from 89 living family members to an astounding 203. That includes the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of Tom’s parents, Tillie and Leone.
In 1988, it took 4 pages to document his family. In 2009, it takes 3 times as many pages to chart this whole family into a tree—one honkin’ huge giant redwood tree.
Last summer, we had a reunion of my side of the family—my parents and their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. We marveled at our size—60 family members at that time (not to mention the “buns in the oven”).
Ha! Compared to Tom’s side of the family, my own family members are procreation amateurs—a skinny little oak next to their giant redwood.
So my poor children have around 250 immediate family members, not going beyond first cousins. Two years ago, when my daughter got married, we agonized over the guest list. We considered not allowing the groom to invite anybody, but that didn’t seem to be a fair way to start a marriage. So to accommodate the groom’s side of the family plus everyone’s friends, the relative list was pared down and pared down until we knew were offending somebody. But unless we were prepared to buy a chicken dinner for 500 people, we just had to stop somewhere.
Having a large family is a blessing, but it’s also overwhelming. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of everyone. There’s always a wedding or a funeral or a birth or an anniversary or a high school graduation or a college graduation or an illness or a new job or a layoff or a military deployment or . . .
With the lives of over 250 family tree branches and twigs--and yes, a few nuts-- to think about, life’s celebrations and sufferings are always with us.
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
He really did it. He said he was going to, and he really did it. “This is my last season refereeing football,” Tom said numerous times this fall. He would look glumly out the window at the rain falling as he laced up his antique cleats. It really was a miserable October in Minnesota this year. “I’m getting too old for this,” he would mutter. “It cuts into my fishing time.” But then he’d come home after the game, quietly satisfied that at age 65, he could still outrun the other referee who was 20 years younger and he could still keep up with a 14-year-old receiver as he ran 60 yards for a touchdown.
Tom started out back in the mid-70s coaching junior high football. Yes, he was very cute. All the 8th grade girls had a crush on him. He coached at that level for about four years.
The low point came in the fall of 1988 after a game in Wheaton, Minnesota. The coach of the Wheaton team was a loud, abusive yeller who verbally rode the referees from the start of the game to the finish. The crowd picked up on the coach’s tone and were merciless to the referees, too. After the game, as the referees were leaving the field, a fan followed them, shouting and swearing. When Tom just kept walking and didn’t respond, the fan shoved Tom from behind. It was at that moment that Tom decided he wouldn’t referee at the high school level any more.
When our son became involved in sports, it was more fun for Tom to just go to his son’s games as a spectator than referee someone else’s. So Tom took a break until about 1994 when he returned to refereeing junior high games—which he did for 15 years until he threw his cleats in the garbage this week.
It was even used as a Halloween costume back in 1983.
1983: Superman, Football Referee, and Witch
Now it’s 2009. For the past several years, Tom only took 7th and 8th grade games. Less pressure down at those levels, he said, although sometimes he still ran into coaches and parents who forgot that the game was about the kids, not about them.
It was a great run—but there’s something kind of sad about those antique 25-year-old ref shoes in the garbage this morning. I think he just didn’t want to be tempted again next fall when the phone call came from the Athletic Department to just ref “one more season.” He needs to be able to say, “Gee, I’d love to, but I threw away my shoes.”
Thursday, October 22, 2009
I was considering some of the alternatives: love affair gone sour, constipation, dog died, wife left, truck broke down . . . all the usual bad luck, gloom and doom reasons you hear on your local country western station.
Normal people just don't have that many stay-out-of-my-business and keep-on-moving signs in a stretch of road that short. There had to be more to the story.
Today when I hiked West Lake Cowdry Road again, I saw it. Like an epiphany. A bolt from the blue. I had missed it before because I was fixating on a sign across the road from it. But today, there it was--the simple explanation for all that hostility and ill will:
Duh! Of course! It all makes perfect sense now. I live with this every day. I'm married to a fisherman, for cripes sake. If the fish bite, happy days are here again. If the fish don't bite, Mr. Pessimistic comes home to commiserate.
Except in the case of the Lake Cowdry depressed fisherman, he doesn't just sigh. He puts up signs. "Stay out. Leave me alone. Don't park here. Don't loiter here. Don't fish here. Don't hunt here. Don't walk here."
I should have been a detective. Elementary, my dear Watson.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
As intriguing as this little creek looks, don’t be tempted. No loitering, no fishing. The whole time I was taking this picture, I marched in place to avoid that classic loitering look of slouching and leaning.
Oops, can’t loiter or fish by this culvert either. ‘Scuse me, I’ve got to keep moving.Along this little stretch, you can’t do anything as the four signs warn “no parking, no fishing, no loitering, no parking (again), and no speeding.” Whew—that’s a lot of signs in a row, even for West Lake Cowdry Road.
This is all I found. It didn’t look too fraught with danger to me. (Fraught? Is fraught a word? If it isn’t, it should be.)
When I got back to my car, I realized that I had inadvertently parked right next to green high voltage box. Expecting the worst, I cautiously touched the metal handle of my car to open the door. Luckily the high voltage must have been momentarily turned down because I didn’t even get one of those carpet-shock jolts. I narrowly averted danger once again.
I think I like it better when all the leaves and grass of summer cover the hostile West Lake Cowdry Road signs. By the time I got home, I felt like I had risked my life to walk those dangerous three miles.
Monday, October 19, 2009
The Scene: Tom’s Google-addicted wife is working at her laptop one day in September and decides to search “Krane Blooger” to see if he is showing up as a famous artist, thereby making the painting worth more than just a traveling gag gift between old college buddies.
Synopsis: Sure enough, within minutes she hits pay dirt. She is breathless with anticipation. However, the excitement slowly turns to disappointment as she checks each Google search site. Krane Blooger does not appear to be a world-famous artist. On the contrary, he currently lives on the East Coast and works in the public relations department of a community college. He dabbles in his art on the side. One site even shows a sample of his work. Although his art seems to have improved quite a bit in the past 40 years, he’s no Picasso. But it’s worth one more shot . . .
Tom’s wife screws up her courage, composes an email, revises it eight dozen times, and finally hits the “send” button. Her email reads as follows:
If you are the Krane Blooger who attended NDSU in the late 1960s/early 1970s, I believe we have one of your oil paintings from your early period.
Could you please give us some information about this painting (see attached photograph)?
Seven minutes later, she received his response:
You found me.
I believe that painting was done as part of a painting class at NDSU.
You’re trusting to my failing memory, but as I recall it is of the Red River in Fargo near Plumtree Road. Area has probably changed completely by now.
Hope this helps,
Not willing to give up completely, she sends another email:
Krane: Thanks for responding so quickly! We've had the painting for so long that it's interesting to find out a little information about it.
Just out of curiosity, I have one more question for you. (I'm trying to trust your failing memory one more time!)
The painting was originally found in an apartment closet at the Bison Arms Apartments in Fargo approximately 40 years ago. Do you have any idea how your painting would have ended up there? Did you give it to someone or sell it to someone who may have forgotten or left it in that apartment?
I don’t even remember the Bison Arms Apartments...
I probably gave it away as I rarely sold anything in those days. To whom? I haven’t the foggiest notion.
The Scene: Tom’s wife’s living room, slumped dejectedly over her laptop computer.
Synopsis: Here are the questions Tom’s wife had been asking herself all this time: Was Krane Blooger a noteworthy artist? Was the picture, done in his early period, now worth thousands—or millions? Was there international intrigue including art theft and black market fencing involved? Is it better to know the truth? Or is it better to live life in La-La Land, with just a tiny ray of hope that you may have the golden ticket, the winning numbers in the lottery?
The answers to the questions above are no, no, no, no, and maybe.
The mysterious Krane Blooger turned out to be just an ordinary guy who works in an office at a community college. He doesn’t really remember painting Red River at Plumtree Road (at least there’s now a name for the painting). He doesn’t remember what he did with it after he painted it, and doesn’t really seem interested in where the painting is now.
The next time Morrie repaints the fence around his yard or John reshingles his roof, we will not be sneaking in the Krane Blooger oil painting housewarming present with nearly as much enthusiasm as we have done in the past. Now we know for certain that the painting really is bad and that it really isn’t worth anything, just like we probably knew in the bottom of our hearts all along. Or at least, we were 99 percent sure.
But it was that 1 percent of uncertainty that made it seem intriguing all these years.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
So I’m packing my bags and waiting for my tickets to County Cork to arrive. I am mighty sure, firmly convinced, that this can’t be a coincidence.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The Scene: A weekend get-together with Tom, Morrie, John, and their wives, 2009.
Synopsis: This weekend, like other weekends over the years, the friends have discussed the whereabouts of the artist, Krane Blooger. But underneath the joking is an unspoken undercurrent of skeptical anticipation: Will it be like an episode of “Antique Roadshow” where Colleene Fesko identified the picture below as a folk art work by Mose T and valued it at $1,000?
Mose T Folk Art valued at $1,000 by Antiques Roadshow Appraiser
Is the painting a “paint-over” where a struggling student-loan-debt-laden NDSU student painted over a Van Gogh canvas, just like the one discovered in July of 2008, because Krane couldn’t afford to buy a new canvas of his own?
Concealed Van Gogh Portrait under “Patch of Grass” Painting valued at $50 million
The friends had joked about the painting for 35 years, but there was always that underlying feeling of “what if . . .” What if it has become valuable? What if Krane Blooger is now a world-famous artist? What if primitive oils are in vogue on the East Coast? What if a valuable painting lies underneath?
So there was always a sense that maybe, just maybe, the Krane Blooger would be their ticket out of their middle-class ruts and into the fast lane of the super-rich art world.
(Stay tuned for Act 5, “In Search of Krane Blooger,” or “When Will This *@!*!# Story Ever End?”)
Friday, October 16, 2009
I have always loved Celtic music (pronounced ‘Kell-tick’ as opposed to the basketball team from Boston pronounced ‘Sell-tick). If you’re not familiar, Celtic music utilizes strings, flutes, and percussion and has origins in the British Isles areas of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, etc. It's the European ancestor of its American descendent, bluegrass music.
I think I love Celtic music so much because it makes me want to dance. And I am not a dancer (picture Sarah Palin’s pig wearing lipstick in a tutu). Irish songs don’t always have the most uplifting lyrics—“Oh Danny boy, I love you so . . . and all the flowers are dying. If I am dead, as dead I well may be . . . “ But the music is so stirring, it even makes dead flowers sound like something to rejoice about.
It’s very possible that my love of Celtic music may be genetic. Yes, I know I’m one hundred percent Norwegian in ancestry, but have you ever looked at a map? A few miles of North Sea is all that separates Ireland and Norway (okay, maybe several hundred miles). But those Vikings were courageous sailors, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them made a little raiding tour of Ireland in a pre-eharmony.com search for a wife. I am convinced I have a little Celtic blood in me somewhere.
So check out the Celtic woman cast singing “The Spanish Lady” or the Celtic violinist, Mairead Nesbitt, the Butterfly, as she flits around the stage during “Granuaile’s Dance.” It will make you want to buy a fiddle and a white dress and spend your days skipping around playing Celtic music.
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Synopsis: When Morrie (one of the original Bison Arms roommmates) and his new wife move to a home in Fargo, Tom secretly unearths the Krane Blooger painting from our basement utility room. While I distract Morrie with my witty conversation(I'm not very witty--he is just easily distracted), Tom surreptitiously replaces a lovely Monet print in their living room with the Krane Blooger untitled oil original as a “housewarming gift.”
Tag, you’re it.
Morrie discovers the Krane Blooger painting on his wall after Tom leaves. And that begins the tradition that has spanned almost forty years: every time Morrie or Tom move or redecorate or repaint or recarpet or remodel or get a new office, the Krane Blooger painting is sneaked into the home or office as a housewarming gift.
Tag, you’re it.
The tradition was also expanded to include John, another close friend and former NDSU classmate. The painting has traveled between Minneapolis, Alexandria, and Fargo dozens of times over the past 35 years. However, its wall time has been seriously limited. It usually hangs on a wall a total of ten minutes before it is once again stored in an attic or a basement or the garage rafters.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The beginning of the story is shadowy because it took place forty years ago. The people involved are getting old and their memories are not as clear as they used to be.
The Characters: Four roommates including graduate student Tom, his fraternity brother Orell, his real brother Bob, and his friend Morrie.
Synopsis: Orell is packing up all his belongings and moving on to bigger and better things. However, after he is gone, one of his roommates finds a painting in the closet he just vacated.
(Note: Actual events were not recorded in Tom’s “My Little Pony” diary. Therefore, some memories are unclear. Where that happens, I just make things up. So sue me.)
Later, when Tom moves out of the Bison Arms, he takes the painting with him. Either that, or Morrie takes the painting with him. (Sigh) Well, one of them takes the painting because they can’t just leave it in the apartment. Somehow, at that point, the painting (possession being 9/10ths of the law) is no longer in the possession of either their former roommate Orell or the artist, Krane Blooger.
The Scene: Tom’s first junior high counseling office, 1972-73.
Synopsis: Tom, newly hired and earthly-belongings deficient, has only one piece of art to his name—the abandoned Krane Blooger painting taken from the closet at the Bison Arms apartment. So when he decorates his office, guess what he hangs on the wall?
He is also color blind and artistically impaired, very unsure of his own ability to judge a painting for its artistic merit. So one day when the junior high art teacher is in his office, Tom asks him what he thinks of the painting. The art teacher, trying to be tactful, tells Tom that he thinks the painting is a piece of crap. (“Primitive,” he says, carefully measuring his words in case Tom himself painted it.) Tom removes the Krane Blooger painting from his wall and takes it home, where his wife is also reluctant to hang it in a prominent place.
The Krane Blooger in a basement utility room, right next to an ironing board.
(Stay tuned for Acts 3 and 4 of "In Search of Krane Blooger" in future blogs entries at this site.)
Sunday, October 11, 2009
I don’t make many apple pies any more. It’s just the two of us rattling around the house, and one of us (not to name names, but not me) has high cholesterol and other maladies that are counter-intuitive to pie. But on Friday, before the snow hit, Tom picked the last of our apples off the two trees we have in our back yard, and we’re getting company today. So I had a sudden urge and a good reason to make an apple pie.
While I was making this pie, I remembered a couple of other pies. One was back in 1989 when I taught my daughter Shannon to bake a pie. She has always been an independent little twerp. She still is. So true to form, after just one pie-baking lesson from her mom, she decided to make a pie one day, all on her own. When I got home and saw it on the cupboard, I just had to take a picture. Here’s Shannon’s first pie, baked at age 9:
I remember another pie in 2001, when I was helping my neighbor Win Win learn to speak English. She had come to the United States from Myanmar (formerly Burma), and she was eager to learn everything American, including what to do with those apples that grew on a tree in her back yard. So she showed me how to make sushi, and I showed her how to make apple pie.
It felt good to dig out the old recipe book and find the apple pie recipe. An apple pie recipe isn’t any good unless it’s got notes and drips all over it. Mine must be really good—lots of splotches. It felt good to peel and slice all those apples, and mix them up with flour, sugar, butter, nutmeg, and cinnamon.
It felt good to roll out the pie crust and plop it in my mother’s old yellow pie plate. I tried to crimp the edges like my mother used to (And yes, I see the wrinkle. I'll fix it--I'll fix it. Hey, I'm not perfect). The crimping is to seal in all that good juice, even though later, the burned smell from the oven told me that my pie runneth over—just like it did for my mother sometimes.
So here’s my apple pie and my memories. I think that’s how you can tell you’re getting older—when everything, including apple pie, reminds you of a story or a person who passed through your life.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
Somewhere in Alexandria is a bride, weeping in disappointment, because when she set the date for her wedding—October 10—she envisioned beautifully colored autumn leaves, temperatures in the 60s or 70s, and a luminous blue sky reflecting on a shimmering lake in the background of all her wedding pictures.
Instead, she’ll have this:
My apologies on behalf of all of Minnesota to the poor bride who wanted a beautiful autumn wedding out in the sugar maple-tree adorned lake country, and instead got temperatures in the low 20s, a stiff northwest wind, and snow, for gosh sakes. It never snows on October 10 in Alexandria. It must be that global warming thing where some random ice floe at the Arctic Circle broke loose and landed on top of us.
Poor bride. I hope her wedding dress comes with a turtleneck and a sweater.
Thursday, October 08, 2009
We arrived at about 10:15 a.m. and the grapes were still covered with their bird-proof mesh netting. A flock of determined birds can wipe out a grape crop faster than you can say “Chardonnay.”
So our first item of business was to walk in front of the tractor and net roller, loosening the netting from the vines and posts so it could be winched into a storage barrel.
After removing the netting, we broke for lunch, and at 1 p.m., the rest of the volunteer pickers showed up. Since it was a Thursday afternoon, we were retired volunteers—friends and relatives of Florian and Aggie who think of an afternoon in a vineyard as a great way to spend the day.
But man, was it was cold! The temperature only got into the very low 40s all day with overcast skies and a northwest breeze. It wasn't hard to believe we'll get our first frost tonight. But everybody was in a good mood and jokes were flying almost as fast as grapes.
The collecting containers began to fill and the vines were looking emptier. My hands were turning purple, but I kind of liked them that color. I secretly hoped the purple wouldn’t wash off for a few days.
I think most people have a vision of grape harvesters as romantic-looking Italian people with brightly colored skirts, aprons, scarves in their hair, and purple feet. But remember, we were picking Frontenac grapes developed by the University of Minnesota to survive in Minnesota’s definitely un-Mediterranean climate. So snowmobile suits, fleece jackets, vests, stocking caps, and Tom's old ski jacket, circa 1990, worked just great.
Life is grand! Retirement is great! It didn’t even matter that it was only 41 degrees outside—it couldn’t have been a more perfect day.