Uncle Ray’s Longest Day

ray lund largerAt the age of 35, my uncle,  Army Private  1st Class Raymond Lund, would have been considered the old man of his outfit, Company C. of the 357th infantry.
Most of the soldiers who climbed over the side of their ship and down the rope ladder to waiting landing craft below on D-Day, were 10 to 15 years younger than he was.

I wonder if those scared boys, huddled together in their battle gear, looked to him for reassurance as the diesel-powered Higgins boat moved agonizingly slow towards Utah Beach at Normandy that June 6th in 1944.

Was he saying the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian, like he’d been taught as a child, while German shells exploded all around and bullets from machine guns made a loud clanging noise as they slammed into the still closed ramp?
D-Day June 6th, 1944 What went through his mind when that ramp was lowered and his comrades were cut down as they tried to advance toward shore through a hail of fire?

Uncle Ray survived what’s been called “The Longest Day” only to have his hand nearly blown off in combat a month later fighting the Nazis among the Normandy hedge rows.
Ray’s war was over.
After receiving a Purple Heart in a field hospital, he was sent home to spend the next 15 months recuperating from his wounds.

Like so many other veterans of battle, Uncle Ray never talked about it.
As a kid I couldn’t help but stare at his scarred-up hand with the missing little finger but of course I’d never dare ask details about how it happened.
And now it’s too late.
Ray took his memories and nightmares of the war to his grave in 1986.

On this 75th anniversary of D-day I’m wishing I knew the answers to so many questions about my quiet, self-effacing uncle and the role he played in the invasion but, like many other World War II vets, his service record was lost in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in 1973. All we know is what’s on his discharge papers.old pix ray&Lorraine
I’m also curious as to why he “enlisted” when he was nearly 34 leaving a pretty young wife stateside to worry?

Patriotic fervor?

There’s no one left who knows for sure..but one thing I do know is how proud our family is of Uncle Ray and his service and sacrifice for these United States of America.

I’m A Travelin’ Man

For the last 34 years, Linda and I have made it a point to celebrate our anniversary in June by taking a road trip somewhere. They’ve all been fun but some more memorable than others.
For example, in 1987, we managed to talk our bosses into letting us have three whole weeks off at once so we could jump in the car and head south.
Soon we were meandering through Dixie..taking the time to stop and see what life was really like in this part of the country.

After years of watching news reports of all the racial hatred and violence in places like Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana, I admit to having some apprehensions about going there. I had visions of being pulled over by one of those stereotypical gum-chewing southern cops, like Rod Steiger in “In the heat of the night” who don’t take kindly to strangers of any color.
“Ta hell you think your doin’ boy..don’t they have speed limits upair in South Dakota?”
“Yes, sir but I wasn’t speeding.”
“Y’all callin’ me a liar boy? We’ll now, we don’t cotton to you northern folks comin’ down here with your Yankee smart ass attitudes. A couple nights in the slammer just might  fix up that sassy mouth ah yours real good.”
But it turns out that the people we encountered in the south are actually more like Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry than Bull Connor of Birmingham.
People were friendly and outgoing everywhere we went and I really got used to waitresses referring to me as honeychil’ or sugar.  “Y’all have a wonderful day now, sweetie pie.”
Linda didn’t mind it either when men called her ma’am and darlin’.

Another memorable road trip was the first time we headed up to Mackinac (Pronounced Mack-in-aw) Island in Northern Michigan. We had just gotten our Camaro convertible. The weather was perfect for leaving the top down for the enjoyable drive through Wisconsin…then, after a three hour ferryboat ride across Lake Michigan we headed up the eastern shore to Mackinac City.mackanac ferry From there we climbed aboard a people ferry over to the Island where no motorized vehicles are allowed. It’s all buggies and wagons that are powered by real horses.

Main Street, Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Main Street, Mackinac Island, Michigan.

Because of those animals, there is a distinct, but not entirely unpleasant aroma about the place..especially when mixed with the smells of chocolate fudge and other  treats from the many shops and restaurants along main street. mackanac lilacsThen there is the intoxicating odor of the lilacs. Lilac bushes and trees are everywhere and so are millions of gorgeous flowers. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reason they’re so abundant and healthy had something to do with all of that horse poop collected from the streets and stables.mackanac horses
The island’s Grand Hotel truly is grand!  This huge wooden structure has somehow survived over a century without having a fire. mackanac hotel It’s a magnificent place that still features all the amenities that have attracted aristocrats, celebrities, presidents and royalty since the late 19th century.
Linda and I spent a memorable afternoon sipping gimlets in the cupola bar on the very top of the Grand Hotel that offered an amazing panoramic view of the island and the Straights of Mackinac.
We loved it so much we’ve been back twice.

And, even though we have a nearly new vehicle (Big Red 2) we still plan to take the rag top on a few road trips during the Summer; just maybe not as far from home as we used to.

So, if you spot a heavy-set grey-haired guy and his too pretty for him wife driving slowly through your town in a 25 year old red Camaro convertible with the top down..wave us on over and maybe show us around. Afterward, perhaps we can sit in the shade, have a couple vodka gimlets together and watch the sunset. Do’ne that soun’  like fun sweet pea?

The Importance of Being Prompt-ed

“I don’t trust anybody who doesn’t look me square in the eye.”

We’ve all heard people say that because making eye contact with others as we speak or listen does suggest we’re being truthful in what we’re saying and interested in what we’re hearing.

The trouble is, a lot of us Norwegians are naturally shy and have been brought up to believe that it’s not polite to stare. So that’s why we feel more comfortable in a conversation looking off to the side or down at our shoes rather than at your face.

 

I overcame most of that shyness shortly after getting the chance to be on television.

I was told that when reading the news, I was to look straight into that camera lens as much as possible and don’t be shifting my eyes around because it would creep out viewers and they wouldn’t  believe a thing I was saying.

 

In the early seventies, though, maintaining eye contact was a huge challenge because no local television stations had Teleprompters yet.

Newscasters had to try memorizing huge chunks of the script to avoid looking down at the words all the time.

Some of those early Keloland anchors were really good at it.

Doug Hill, Will Carlson and Leo Hartig would only need to glance at the script every other sentence or so.

But the absolute master of delivering the news without a prompter was Hemmingsen.

Steve could see and remember a full paragraph ahead.

It used to tick me off because I couldn’t do that and sitting next to him on the 10 O’clock news, I looked like one of those bird toys whose head bobs up and down dipping into a glass of water.

One of our studio cameras actually did have a Teleprompter of sorts…used primarily for recording commercials.

It was mounted just above the camera. The script was typed out and printed on a paper scroll which was advanced by hand as the announcer read.

I thought, hey, this might work for the newscast and talked our 10 O’clock production assistant, Linda Hunter, into re-typing as much of the script as possible onto the prompter paper each night and then cranking it forward for us to read live on the news.

It actually worked pretty well except that poor Linda was often so busy with her other duties she could only manage to get a few stories typed up by air time.

 

Later, KELO purchased a system in which pages of the news script would be placed on a conveyer belt which passed under a small closed circuit camera. That image could then be seen by the anchor through a monitor on the studio camera.

The same basic system is still used today except that the script is all launched and projected by computer.

The conveyor belt is long gone.

I think I can safely say that the Teleprompter saved my TV career. It allowed me to master the art of deception.

I quickly acquired the knack of looking down at my script just often enough to make the viewers believe I really had committed the entire thing to memory. (Walter Cronkite was the king of this technique.)

But the teleprompter has also been responsible for some of my most embarrassing on-air moments..like when a new prompter operator would crank the words by too fast or too slow which left me lost and forced to look down and try find my place on the hard copy script which usually took several seconds but seemed like hours. This is still a recurring and terrifying nightmare.

Today, most of the Keloland news anchors are comfortable enough with technology to go paperless and rely on an I-pad at the desk as a back-up should the prompter fail.

I’m old school and would be scared to death without a paper script in my hands…just in case.

I have noticed, when going to TV church, that one of the pastors at First Lutheran in Sioux Falls uses his I-pad for sermon notes in the pulpit.

Clearly Reverend Jeff Backer has committed himself to believing that the Lord will guide his finger across the electronic screen to turn the page correctly and never fail.

I think of all the times I fat finger and mess up just trying to get information on my smart phone..and shudder at the thought of ever having to rely on it in front of an audience.

Speaking of church.  I’ve been invited to be one of the disciples in the annual Last Supper reenactment at Brandon Lutheran April 12th.  I play the role of Doubting Thomas and have a few paragraphs of dialogue to memorize.

Like my character, I have serious doubts about learning it in time.

I haven’t been assigned memory work since Sunday School and am wondering if the producer, Rev. Dennis Bossman, would let me rig up some kind of Teleprompter system..but “doubt it.”

 

So Long Big Red

Well, I’m car shopping again.

Okay, it’s been 17 years since last having said that. But now, Linda and I have no choice.

You see, Big Red, our 2000 Lincoln town car which has served Linda and I so loyally for so long, has been brought to a humiliating end…by me.

First, a little background.

I’ve been a fan of Lincoln motor cars ever since seeing John F. Kennedy using one for his presidential limousine..taking delivery of this highly modified brand new Continental in 1961. It was simply the coolest car in the world and, like Kennedy himself, represented a drastic move away from stuffy old fuddy duddyness to represent  a new generation of Americans: stylish, classy and modern.big red kennedy limo

Then, of course, he was murdered in that same Lincoln in Dallas two years later.

My first Lincoln was very much in the style of the president’s. It was a used Yellow and White 1966 Continental with suicide doors. ( Rear doors hinged in the back and open forward.)

I think we dubbed it “Old Yeller” and drove it for a few years. Next came a 1984 Town Car..bought from Hertz Rental. We liked that one so much that when another came available cheap, I bought it…same year..same color. We named our identical Lincolns Abe and Mary Todd.  Probably stupid as I think of it now..but Linda and I had fun with such classy rides for driving to work.

When both finally gave out, I spotted and purchased a used two year old whiteTown Car at Frankman’s that became known as “White Lightning.” lincoln_bye She succumbed to rust and a faulty heater many years later after serving as back-up to Big Red a two year old Lincoln which I also bought from Frankman’s

We especially loved Red because he never showed his age. We took really good care of him..plus Ford Motor Company didn’t bother to significantly change the body style for at least 15 years.

Red’s ample trunk, roomy leather seats, soft comfortable ride and powerful engine made him the reliable chariot of choice for many, many road trips with our friends, Denny and Joanie Graves as well as several treks to Arizona, California  and Nebraska to spend time with our kids.texas trip packing big red s.f.

big red minnesotaOh, Red gave us a few moments of frustration. Overheating issues in South Carolina, a gear shift linkage problem in Texas and a sputtering engine in Arizona..but all were minor issues..easily and inexpensively repaired.big red texas overheat

Then last Fall, a major milestone recorded enroute to Brookings as Big Red’s odometer  rolled over to 200 thousand miles!  A moment worth pulling off to the side of the road to record.big red turns 200

Friends and family have often asked, “Why don’t you get a newer car?”  Our standard reply has always been we’re perfectly happy with the performance, amenities and look of Big Red and we haven’t made a car payment in years. No small deal when we’re a couple old coots on a fixed income.

But that all changed at the end of the year when I was dropping Granddaughter Ella off at her apartment during a snowstorm. I made the mistake of going down their steep narrow driveway and couldn’t get enough tire grip to drive up and out again. Before calling the tow truck, I thought I’d give it one last try in reverse gear.

Bad Idea.

Red slipped down into the basement entryway of the house next door and I was done for.big red hurt five

big red hurt fourbig red hurt threebig red hurt twoWe opted to drop full coverage on Big Red when he turned 15 so, while covered for damage done to the apartment house, the cost of fixing Red’s badly bruised backside is up to me and he’s at the age and mileage where anything past an oil change would be considered a total loss.

Amazingly, the smashed tail light some how still functions so I have turned to the Red Green manual of auto repair using lots of duct tape to hold what’s left of the red lens in place and am able to drive the old boy until we find a replacement.

But no vehicle can ever replace Big Red and I feel like a pet owner that’s been forced to take his sick old pal to the vet for the last time.

Perhaps I can donate him to the University of Nebraska football team for use as an example of toughness and reliability for the long hall.

After all, the school already has a most fitting slogan.big red nebraska (640x360)

Gentleman Gary

randall
Every once in a while an individual graces this earth who touches the hearts of all he meets. Gary Randall was such a soul. Just writing his name in the past tense brings a tear to the eye. Gary died Saturday from the cancer he’s been fighting for a long time. He was not only one of the most talented musicians and songwriters ever to come out of South Dakota but a person who lived his faith and truly loved others as himself. In turn, we all loved Gary..none more than his wonderful wife Deb along with  sons, Jason,  Troy, Chad their wives and families.

A few years ago, I wrote a letter nominating Gary for a lifetime achievement award and membership into the Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association’s Hall of Fame. He received that award at the annual presentations last Spring. He also performed a short concert all by himself on that big stage and received the accolades from the audience he so richly deserved.
Thought I might share the letter I sent to the board of directors with you here not for my gratification but his.
I’m not positive but I think the first time I met my friend, Gary Randall was when I saw him playing with his band at the Airport Holiday Inn lounge in Sioux Falls in 1969 or 70. I just couldn’t get over his soulful voice.
The next time we met, Gary was working solo at one of the clubs in town in the early 70’s and we struck up a friendship. Back then, musicians would work for one or two weeks at a place..sometimes more 5 or 6 nights a week. You could actually make a living at it. When my brother, Denny Lund and Pat Clark opened up a bar called “The Sting” in the old Depot, they hired Gary to play on a regular basis and I’ll never forget how patrons..especially me..enjoyed his incredible voice and use of all five fingers to pluck all six strings to make his acoustic guitar sound like an orchestra.
I suppose, Gary Randall might be considered more of a balladeer than a rock and roller but, oh..how everybody who ever played in a band knows..if you want to fill a dance floor..crank out a ballad and no one sings a ballad better.
I liken Gary to David Gates, lead singer of “Bread”, Larry Gatlin, Kenny Rogers, Lionel Richie or, close your eyes and he’s Don Henley when singing “Desperado.”
When Linda and I started dating in 1980, we rarely missed a Gary Randall performance. (Our song: “My Sweet Lady.” )He played it at our wedding in 1984..and still does without asking today whenever our paths cross at a venue.
Many years ago, Gary began devoting the lion’s share of his talent to his faith; performing primarily in churches for offerings and recording sales; occasionally playing a club or other special event..including several appearances on Keloland TV’s early News at Five.
It was such an honor to cause any spotlight to shine on this amazing talented man. Gary Randall really does put the “gentle” in the word gentleman. In recent years, Gary has suffered a devastating fall from a ladder that put him out of commission for a time..but he bounced back with a smile and positive attitude. Now, he’s dealing with yet another health struggle.
I can honestly think of no South Dakotan who deserves the distinction of being honored in the South Dakota Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more than my friend, Gary Randall.
May the God he served so well now grant him a special place in the greatest Hall of Fame..Heaven.
Below is a wonderful example his skills as a singer, writer, guitarist and Christian.

 

Autumn Aroma

Well, it’s going to be interesting again over the next couple weeks trying to figure out which day our humungous backyard maple tree will decide to let its leaves turn from green to yellow and then drop them all at once like a clumsy waiter. It happens just that quickly as if our maple is showing off to the hundreds of other maples in the neighborhood that it can hold on to its leaves longer and shed them faster than all the rest.

Seeing those leaves stack up each autumn always takes me back to the home town of my youth when leaf disposal was a whole lot different..and memorable. There was no having to cram them into expensive paper bags and pay admission to a  leaf drop-off site. You simply put a match to the pile and torched  ‘em. Soon, bright orange flames would appear and the air would be filled with blue smoke rising to the sky and a wonderfully sweet aroma like no other that makes this nostalgic old sap’s knees go weak just thinking about it.

(PUBLISHED: An exception to bans on burning A pile of leaves burns Thursday as a woman rakes her front yard in the central Iowa town of Minburn. More than one-third of Iowa's counties have asked the State Fire Marshal's Office for open-burning bans, highlighting the dangerous mix of warm temperatures, sparse rainfall and windy conditions that has swept through the state this autumn. ) A pile of leaves burns as a women rakes her front yard, Thursday Nov. 4, 1999, in Minburn, Iowa.  More than one-third of Iowa's counties have asked for open-burning bans from the state fire marshal's office, highlighting the dangerous mix of warm temperatures, sparse rainfall and windy conditions that has swept through the state this autumn. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Everyone in Volga during the fifties burned their leaves with the exception of a few who had figured out the value of them as mulch for their spring gardens. My mother gardened too but she wasn’t a mulcher. I remember her referring to those stacks of decaying leaves and other waste, which some people had in their back yards, as rodent apartments. My mom wasn’t afraid of much but she had a passionate dislike for mice.

The job of getting the leaves picked up fell to my big brother and me. We did not volunteer nor did we accept the assignment without considerable whining.  I was particularly reluctant because we had two rakes at home; one of those springy fan-shaped jobs and the other a heavy iron garden rake and there was no doubt as to who would be stuck with it.  That thing may have been fine for moving black dirt around…but was worthless for leaves. Every few swipes would require stopping to remove clogs of leaves that had become impaled on the tines.

Eventually, though, they all ended up in a huge stack on the gravel street at the end of our front walk.   Exhausted, my brother and I would both let ourselves fall backwards onto the soft yet crunchy pile and just lie there for a few minutes wishing, perhaps, that we could be so lucky as our two big elm trees and just shed all burdens till spring. But there wasn’t time for day dreaming. Before long, dad would be turning the corner in his old panel truck coming home to supper only to find a huge brown heap where his parking spot is supposed to be. Later, we’d all gather around that pile as the old man struck a match and ignited our very own bonfire. Then, mom would emerge from the house with a bag of marshmallows which we stuck on sticks and poked over the flames until the puffy white confection either came up golden brown or a black gob of char.  Either way, they were sticky, oozy, delicious and a memory forever etched in my brain.

I recall looking up the street and seeing the orange glow of many other fires with neighborhood families enjoying the same autumn ritual. No worries about destroying the ozone or inhaling cancer causing carcinogens or people complaining they couldn’t breathe from the smoke or setting the town ablaze. We were too dumb to know back then, I guess.

But I do feel sorry for my grandkids who’ve never gotten a whiff of the ambrosia that burning leaves provide. I have a Weber grill on the back patio, maybe I’ll take the grate out and stuff the thing with leaves then invite the young ones over for a lighting ceremony and a bit of aroma therapy.

I wonder if Linda has any marshmallows in the cupboard.

Grandpa Gruseth’s Holiday Homecoming

My brother, Tom and his wife Ilene have a beautiful lake home in South Carolina but really haven’t spent much time there lately. They’re back home in South Dakota to celebrate their 50th high school reunion. (Yep..high school sweethearts) They didn’t have much time to unpack following a three week Viking Ship tour of Europe which included a personal diversion for them to spend a few days visiting our relatives in Norway.  It was a visit 18 years later than expected. The three Lund brothers had made plans to travel with our wives to the Old Country during the Summer of 2000. But on Memorial Day weekend that year, Tom was jogging in a park near their New Jersey home when he went down with a brain aneurysm. He was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery as soon as possible. At first the prognosis was grim..but he rallied and within a few months was back to normal and within a year, had passed all his Continental Airlines exams for a return to the cockpit.   On Labor day weekend Linda and I along with sister in law Judy (brother Denny’s widow) enjoyed a leisurely lunch downtown where we got to hear Tom and Ilene’s fun accounts of meeting with our Norwegian cousins on my mom’s side and seeing their pictures.     A favorite story they heard while there was of when our Grandfather, John Gruseth, who’d become a successful farmer and family man in Brookings County U.S.A., made a Christmas pilgrimage back to Trondheim from which he left as a boy of 17.

I told them I’d written an account of that homecoming in a blog years ago..but they hadn’t seen it. It’s a timeless tale that’s true with just a few author embellishments. Perhaps it’s one worth revisiting. So here goes.

Grandpa John young (2) (452x640)

When John Gruseth first stepped off the ship’s gangway onto solid ground once again he still had his sea legs and felt a bit wobbly. It had been a long rough voyage across the Atlantic in late December and he was mighty glad to be standing here at Trondheim Harbor on Christmas Eve day 1906. As he looked out across the city he’d known so well as a boy, John could see a few rays from the sun, so low in the southern sky this time of year, reflecting off the beautiful spires of Nidaros Cathedral..Mecca to Lutherans everywhere.    His mind raced back to the last time he stood on that same spot 24 years earlier, when he was just 17, and about to board another ship; this one bound for America; taking him away from everything and everyone he’d ever known. John had been born with a spirit of adventure.  “No grass growing under that Gruseth boy’s feet,” people used to say.  But, as the oldest of two sons, it looked as if  it was John’s destiny to inherit and stay on the little hillside family farm at Byneset..even though there were already way too many people trying to scratch out an existence from it. By 1882, thousands of  Norwegians had already immigrated to the United States to take advantage of free land being offered to anyone with the gumption to farm and develop it. Not only was it free for the taking but mostly free of rocks and best of all it was FLAT. No more aching ankles from long days standing on steep slopes cutting hay with a scythe.
John was convinced that he must go to America too and was determined to find a way. He pleaded with his parents, Jon Sr. and Jonetta, to let his brother, Anders, take over the farm and allow him seek his fortune and independence in America.(“Behage , behage far , utleie meg bror Anders har den jorbruk og utleie meg gå til USA.”)But the answer was always no. It’s too far, you’re too young, you’re needed here. Then, one day,  Uncle Nels Christopherson stopped for a visit to announce that he was selling out and taking his whole family to the United States. He’d gotten letters from other relatives, already there, who had found success and happiness in Dakota Territory. “Better make hay while the sun shines,” Nels said. “We can take John along and help him get started over there if you say its alright.”
Well, it wasn’t alright with Jonetta who knew once her son stepped aboard that boat.. she’d never see him again.“We’ve got to let the boy go, mother.” Jon Sr. said to his usually stoic wife who, knowing there was no stopping him, allowed a single tear to roll down her ample cheek.

Grandpa John’s Parents, Jon J. Groseth and Jonetta Vevig Groseth both lived to see their son one more time before each passed away in 1908.

Grandpa John’s Parents, Jon J. Groseth and Jonetta Vevig Groseth both lived to see their son one more time before each passed away in 1908.

Well, mother was wrong, John thought to himself as he began the long walk  through the snow toward the farm at Byneset to surprise the whole family at Christmas. Traveling along the road he’d known so well as a boy,  John reflected on the decision he made to leave so long ago. No regrets, he thought, but it was mighty tough going for awhile. He discovered that America was flat alright but it was also windy all the time, bitter cold in the winter and unbearably hot in the summer. If drought and bugs didn’t ruin the crops, floods and hailstorms would.In those first years, John ached for the mountains of home and the sight of ships sailing on the fjord below Gruseth farm. He was determined to learn and speak English..but it was difficult and made his jaw tired.Eventually, though, through hard work and tenacity, things got better. He met and married a lovely gentle Norwegian girl, Julia Leite, saved enough to buy his own farm just outside of Volga in the brand new state of South Dakota and had become father to four children, two boys and two girls.
John_Gruseth_family John Gruseth family around 1910. My mom, Gladys, the little girl between grandma and grandpa, was born two years after John returned from his trip to Norway. (standing L-R) Alma, Johnny, Clarence and Clara.

Yes sir, he’d done alright for himself, well enough to afford this journey back to Norway.It was cold as John trudged along through the blanket of soft snow in the forest and hills..but nothing like the winter of 88 he’d gone through in America when a surprise blizzard blasted across the great plains. It became known as the children’s blizzard because so many kids froze to death trying to walk home from school through the blinding storm. No, by golly, never seen anything like that and don’t ever hope to again, John thought. What a contrast it was to this beautiful night walking along under a canopy of stars. It was midnight by the time John arrived at the front door and began to knock. “God Jul, it’s your brother John,” he shouted.” “Stop trying to fool me,”  Anders shouted back from the bedroom, “my brother is in America.” “It IS me,” John repeated, “I’ve come home for Christmas.”
Anders slowly opened the door and there stood the brothers face to face for the first time in two dozen years. “Velkommen, velkommen,” Anders said, shaking John’s hand up and down as if he wasn’t ever going to let go. “Karen, come here,” Anders called to his wife. “It’s my big brother from the U.S.A. who walked across a mountain in the dark to get here. Go tell Mother and Father and sister Ingeborg. It’s a Christmas miracle!” gruseth_farm_in_norway_1

Gruseth farm as it would have appeared to Grandpa John upon his homecoming in 1906.

The farm today with the fjord at the top.

The farm today with the fjord at the top left.

Grandpa John stayed in Norway through late February and had this picture taken with brother Anders(left) and sister Ingeborg before getting back on the boat for the long voyage back to America. John_Gruseth_family_002


 Grandpa John had brought some prairie grass seeds from South Dakota along on his trip home to Norway and planted them on the home farm. A patch of that “American” grass still grows there today.

My cousins Don and Lawrence along with their families were able to make that trip to Norway 18 years ago and  enjoy the hospitality of our Nordic cousins. Then, more recently my daughter Patty and Granddaughter, Allison were there followed a couple years later by Daughter Suzan, Husband Joe and Granddaughter,  Zoey.   Linda and I were in Norway as hosts of a Keloland/Holiday Vacations tour in 1997 but were not able to break schedule to follow in Grandpa John’s footsteps to Byneset.    A situation we hope to correct in the near future.

Drive-In Movie Memories

drive in buttercup

Add sweet cream butter to hot popcorn mix it up, wrap it up, buttercup is born.It’s delicious, so nutritious, it’s a taste delight It’s so munchy, crisp and crunchy, you’ll enjoy each bite. Eat Butter drenched Buttercup, popcorn at its best Served in a king sized cup. It beats all the rest.

Okay, anybody else remember that little ditty?drive in frankie

It takes me back to the 50’s and 60’going to the drive-in movie with my dad, mom and two brothers.
It meant that intermission had started and time for brother, Denny and me to race to the snack bar and load up on food and refreshments before the feature movie started. We only had ten minutes and could watch the time ticking away on the big outdoor screen as they ran a film of a clock counting backwards to zero and showtime.drive in clock

Besides Buttercup popcorn, there were hot dogs or barbeque beef sandwiches served in a tin foil type of wrapper. There was some god-awful chocolate drink in a can called “Toddy” which I only tried once. There were all kinds of ice cream treats, candy and soda. Plus if the mosquitoes were bad you could buy a PIC insect repellent coil. It looked like a small burner on an electric stove. It came in a metal tray which you’d set on the car dashboard and light with a match.
Little wisps of purfumey smoke would result..so bad it made us gag.
It too was a one-time experiment. I don’t remember if it actually kept the bugs away or not.
I remember we’d have to do a balancing act trying to carry food and drinks for the whole family back to the car on those flimsy cardboard trays hoping we’d get there before the outdoor lights were turned off and we’d be lost forever amid a sea of automobiles.

When the Sioux Drive-In opened South of Brookings in the early 50’s my dad and mom just loved the novelty of it and we hardly ever missed a show.
The theater gave out movie schedules for each month during the summer and mom kept it scotch taped to the kitchen cabinet so we could plan which ones we were going to see.
We’d arrive early to get a good spot..hang the speaker on the window and people-watch  until the previews began at dusk.
There were rest rooms at the snack bar building but mom always brought along an empty Folgers coffee can for us boys to use so we wouldn’t be roaming around in the dark or have to miss any of Ma and Pa Kettle or Francis the Talking Mule movies.
As entertaining as it was, though, it was hard sometimes for us to stay awake crowded in the back seat and in a rare gesture of brotherly love, there was usually no objection if one laid his head on the other’s shoulder.

South Dakota once had 31 drive-in theaters. At last count there were six left. There are lots of reasons for their demise, of course.

Back in their  heyday, there was no such thing as daylight saving time meaning dusk occurred around 8:30 in the summer months.  But today, if there’s a double feature it’s two in the morning before the show’s over. Too late for most working stiffs and those of us retired folks whose eyelids start to sag at the stroke of 9.

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, people who went to the Drive-In did so in a CAR. There were rows of gravel humps at varying degrees of slopeiness from front to back on which you’d pull the front wheels for a clear view of the screen then grab the speaker and hook it onto the window. 
But as Linda and I discovered while checking out the Verne Drive-In just outside Luverne some time ago, most people now drive high profile pick-ups, vans and SUVs. Theater managers plead over the loud speaker for patrons in big vehicles to park toward the rear so as not to block other’s view, but if you’re in a Prius or little Camaro convertible,  you’ll get lost in a canyon of Caravans, Suburbans and Ford F250’s.drive in

Also, the few remaining Drive-In theaters have long since abandoned the idea of providing speakers on poles. In part, I suppose, because they became collector’s items for thieves or got destroyed by cars snagging the cord with their bumper..back when cars still had bumpers. drive in speakersInstead, audio is transmitted over an FM frequency you can pick up on your radio. Just make sure your battery is capable of dealing with the 4 hour drain.
The nice thing about speaker poles is they used to keep vehicles properly spaced apart. Now, it’s sort of like festival seating at a rock concert with ugly stares or a verbal rebuke coming from the guy next to you if you park too close.

I see the new Mission Impossible movie is coming to the Verne Drive-in. Maybe we’ll try it again and make sure to leave early enough to get a spot on the front row.

I’m thinking about even throwing an empty coffee can in the car for old time’s sake..but Linda will likely say no.

Hemmingsen On Kranz

Of course I knew Dave Kranz. You can’t be in the same line of work in the same town for over twenty years without a knowledge of each other. The truth is…and I base this on nothing he ever said or done..I  didn’t think Dave thought much of me as a real journalist. He was right, of course. I didn’t have any formal education in journalism and leaned more toward feature stories while he relished working in the trenches digging up the hard news and political stuff.  Other than a cordial greeting when our paths occasionally crossed, it wasn’t until my approaching retirement that I realized I’d been wrong about Dave. It was Kranz and an Argus  photographer who asked to meet with me for lunch and an interview about my  career and exit.   He couldn’t have been nicer or more complimentary.

My friend and longtime Keloland colleague, Steve Hemmingsen, was a real friend with Kranz and I’ve asked Steve to share a few personal memories here. (The photo is a screen grab from the 2002 U.S. Senate debate. That’s Steve on the far left; Dave on the far right.)kranz debate

Much has been said and written about the passing of the one-time Argus Leader political guru Dave Kranz.  Deservedly so, and as far as I know, every bit of it has been so accurate Dave would have grunted his editorial approval.

 

Knowing that Dave and I were not only colleagues, but friends for half a century, almost to the year, since we were both novice journalists in Austin, Minnesota, Doug has asked me to share some personal reflections.  Austin was a good place to start and a good place to get acquainted with fellow journeymen journalists.  With a TV station, two radio stations and an old established newspaper it was small enough to become familiar with each other and big enough to have a journalism community.  We spent a lot of time in a lot of bars.  Austin had a lot of bars, although I don’t remember Dave drinking much, if at all, or smoking…anything.  He was more serious than the rest of us, even in the tumultuous 60s.

 

I intend these reflections to be humorous, but as Dave himself would attest, accurate.  We used to kid about his sartorial splendor.  Dave wasn’t always the be-suited editor he became.  I used to joke that he took the 1950s song “Tan Shoes and Pink Shoe Laces” as a dress code, like some guys view Esquire…or used to.

 

While in Austin, after I had headed west, Dave rented an apartment owned by the man many viewed as an “errant heir” to the Hormel “Spam” fortune, Hollywood composer and one-time husband of Leslie Caron, Geordie Hormel.

 

I never saw the place, but I understand it was posh, located above Geordies bar, the one with a fire house pole so you could slide from the mezzanine to the main floor.  I doubt if Dave ever did the “pole dance.”  But I have often wondered what the apartment looked like when Dave vacated for Mitchell and, ultimately, Sioux Falls.

 

Why this conjecture? Dave would buy a brand new car and within a year, it looked like he had had it detailed during a SCUD missile attack in downtown Baghdad.  None of that mattered to Dave.  His thing was good, accurate reporting and well-researched analysis and good conversation, usually about the previous two, or major league baseball.

 

Our parallel paths brought us to South Dakota, home to Dave (Dave was one of the Kranzburg Kranzes), the frontier to me at the time.  Our friendship endured and grew to the point that he and my son shared a mania for baseball and baseball cards.  I hope they’re both comparing notes someplace now.

 

When he was at the Mitchell Daily Republic, Dave would call me with the occasional news tip. Why?  So that KXON, now KDLT, wouldn’t get the story first.

 

One time, Dave was at KELO.  We were talking in the lobby as Captain Eleven puffed a cigarette.  Dave was at his dress-code best.  When he left, the Captain shook his head and said: “There goes one of the most powerful people in South Dakota.”

 

Indeed.  I think David Kranz would have taken it as a compliment, and I think the Captain sort of meant it as one.

 

It was painful for me to witness Dave’s slide into the abyss of dementia.  I don’t know if anybody has talked about that.  A group of friends…Ted Muenster, former Argus publisher Randall Beck, Jimmy the Priest and I used to make the trip to Watertown to visit Dave.  Finally, just to see him. The trip home, whether alone or individually, was always somber and maybe a little tearful as we watched a truly beautiful mind wither away, way too early.  Dave was younger than all of us in years and maybe wiser than some of us in intellect.

 

By the way, in the name of accuracy, Dave would remind you that in Austin, the Spam capital…the one in the can, not the one in your computer…it’s pronounced “Hor’-mull”, not the hoity toity “Hor-mell’” of TV commercials.

Hunting Nightcrawlers

It appears that we’re in for a few rainy cooler days as we start this downhill run to the end of June. That’s fine by me as I’ve not been terribly appreciative of this leap from Spring to swelter with very few sublimely perfect 70 degree sunshiny days in between.

No, Iike the experience of being surrounded by a good, non-threatening life-giving rain that lasts a while; unlike those lightning and thunder filled downpours driven by hurricane force winds that come and go with frightening speed causing hail damage, flooded basements, power outages and interviews on the news with long faced people standing in their front yards next to a hundred year old cottonwood tree that their great granddad planted and now lies in a giant broken heap on the ground.

I’ve been known to stand out in a warm summer rain and just look skyward allowing the soft droplets splat against my face. (I know, “not enough sense to come in our of the rain’ and all that but, as a kid, I used to love strolling the sidewalks on mild rainy evenings in my little town pretending to be a god with the power to grant worms, who had ventured from their comfortable confines underground to bask on the dangerous but still warm concrete, life or death.  I was a good god, for the most part, granting every squiggly creature at my feet a second chance to redeem themselves unless, of course, there were just too many on the cement to dodge and their souls wound up at the mercy of my shoe soles.

My dad bought the property for our house in Volga from Joe Dahm..who ran the local bait and tackle shop.  Eventually, we kids discovered that for years, Joe had been seeding that lot in town with night crawlers that hadn’t been sold at the store.

It wasn’t until the folks started digging up the back yard for mom’s garden that they discovered loads of the big worms at every turn of the fork.

I seem to remember dad saying something like “It looks like this is where Joe Dahm disposed of his unsold night crawler inventory.”

By the time our house was built and for a few years following, nobody thought much about the huge night crawler population on our land…but then kids in the neighborhood heard that the new owner of the bait shop was paying 25 cents a dozen for them especially when the walleye bite was on at lake’s Campbell, Goldsmith, Oakwood, Poinsett and Sinai.

Well, it wasn’t long before young entrepreneurs in my town began prowling the neighborhoods after dark with their flashlights trying to capture worms which, in search of fresh air I suppose, had ventured far enough out of their holes to fall victim to the lightning fast reflexes of youth and wind up in a Butter Nut Coffee can where..when enough had been gathered.. would be redeemed for cold hard cash at Jones’ bait shop.night crawlers

I never thought much about worms; either angleworms or night crawlers..other than I found them disgusting. Not as disgusting as tape worms which reportedly would lodge in a little kid’s guts and grow to great lengths before being expelled in the biffy after the administration of prescribed treatment from the doc. I don’t know anybody who had a tapeworm..but then all my friends and family preferred their meat prepared as God intended: well done.

I did know lots of kids..mostly farm kids…who came to class with a telltale ring on their head..etched there like a crop circle by what we assumed was..because of the name..a worm.

Turns out ringworm isn’t a worm at all but a highly contagious fungus often picked up from animals or other infected humans.

I am instinctively fearful of snakes and have always put worms in that category of creatures I’d rather not touch…but it was the lure of great wealth that helped me overcome such phobias as a kid when I learned that Jones Bait Shop was paying big money for night crawlers and I was living atop a gold mine.

Still, I would never have ventured out and after them had it not been for a kid by the name of Lanny Lee. I really don’t know too much about Lanny except he was a little older than me and was living with his grandpa or uncle (I’m not sure of the connection) Oscar Lee in Volga who was a gifted artist but earned his living by painting houses.

Lanny was memorable for his small stature..his dark complexation and a speech impediment in which his L’s and R’s became W’s…much like Bawey Kwipke on “Big Bang Theory.”  Unfortunately,  Oscar’s grandson was cursed to have both his first and last name begin with L. which made it too easy for torment and teasing by classmates; Wanny Wee…wapped all up in toiwet papew. I’m ashamed to admit is was among those cruel clods  But, surprisingly,  Wanny..I mean Lanny..never really let on that he was bothered by it.

He was too preoccupied by cashing in on the crawler crop and, though Oscar, he knew where to look; our yard!

Many nights..way after bedtime..I’d hear a tap, tap tap on the screen of our bedroom window and hear this; “Doug..you awake?  It’s Wanny. Wanna hunt night craw-wers?”   And, find my flashlight grab a coffee can and quietly sneak out the back door where I’d join him in our great quest.

It was Wanny..er, Lanny who taught me how to put a red handkerchief over the flashlight lens so as not to spook the worms which would venture most of the way out of their holes especially on a rainy night. Then you had to make sure snatch them with lightning speed and hang on tight. Not too tight, though because once in our grasp, night crawlers had an incredible ability to try slither back into their holes with inexplicable power and without proper finesse and pumping action, they’d break in two.

Some nights it was a real bonanza and we’d manage to extract four dozen or more worms which had to be kept alive long enough to collect our two dollars from the bait shop. It finally dawned on me after sneaking back into the house and three back breaking hours had passed, that we weren’t going to get rich at this.

Soon after, my dad bought a power lawn mower and I began cutting the grass for several elderly folks in our neighborhood..earning fifty cents a yard…even more if Mrs. Berg was in a generous mood..and I managed to get each one done in a half hour.

Oh, Lanny would still come around on occasion tap, tap tapping on our window in the middle of the night making his wequest…but I’d had enough.

I was reminded of those nights on a recent fishing trip in which night crawlers were what the Walleye were hungry for and I had to reach into that Styrofoam bucket filled with cool dirt and a few reluctant worms hiding out at the bottom.

It still gags me a little to handle those slimy buggers and I continue to marvel at how stwong they are in their wesistance.