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.

Dog Days Of Spring

It’s been such a nice day that I thought I’d leave the TV off and get a few things done.

Number one was to give those pretty yellow flowers in the yard a second baptism of weed killer because the first one didn’t take.

They must not be Lutheran dandelions.

I have opened the back door to let some fresh air in and hopefully bring with it a few wisps of inspiration as I now assume my familiar position at the computer keyboard.

Unfortunately all I hear is the gentle whirr of the overhead fan and a chorus of neighborhood dogs yelping their lungs out.

dogs

Talk about inspiration, one starts to bark and all the others within earshot feel compelled to join in. I wonder if it’s just an instinctive reaction or if they’re actually communicating with one another.

Hmmm..perhaps something like this:

“Ruff, Ruff…Hey, Sadie what the heck are your masters cookin’ for supper over there..it smells delicious like dead carp or Buster’s butt.”

“Yelp, Yelp..It’s Mediterranean. That’s the curry your perceptive snout is picking up. They used to toss me a few scraps and it was real tasty but hot as that German Shepard down the street. They stopped sharing with me, though, because they didn’t get to the back door fast enough to let me out and I left them a little steamy souvenir on the carpet. Man, that stuff was as hot goin’ out as it was goin’ in. Did you hear about Spike..the neighborhood stud hound? He hasn’t been the same since his master brought him back from the repair shop. He must have broken something because he was going to get fixed.  Something happened there, though,  because now he just sits around with his sad-eyed head on his paws as if there’s nothing left to live for.  Poor fella. Maybe I should strut by there and give him a little whiff..see if that perks him up a bit.”

In other Lund neighborhood news..I finally parted with an old friend this past week; my 1969 MGB which I’ve owned for 42 years…but not driven for 10…was sold for a ridiculously small amount and unceremoniously hauled from the garage and onto a truck. It had to go…taking up precious space which will now…hopefully..be occupied by a riding lawn mower.mg

But, oh, the memories:

I borrowed 800 dollars to buy it in 1976. I thought it was a great deal but my wife at the time thought it was the most impractical stupid thing I’d ever done.  But, like me,  our young daughters just loved to go for rides in the “little car.” In my memory I can still hear them laugh as they pretended to be homecoming queens waving to people while perched on the back lid as I slowly drove them around the neighborhood.

My current wife, to whom I’ve been married for 34 years, has always loved the “little car”. We took short summer dives in it for years. A Mother’s Day ritual each May would be to drive it to the greenhouse. We’d get lots of stares traveling home loaded down with plants and flowers in the back.

Speaking of plants, we’re off to Volga with a few in the car to decorate the graves of Mom and Dad Lund.

I wish you a Memorial Day that’s both memorable and safe.

My Rock and Roll Roots

It was quite a weekend for this old scribe.

Despite the inclement weather, the South Dakota Rock and Roll Music Association held its annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Ramkota April 14th and it was my honor to be among those inductees as part my 15 year association with the Mogen’s Heroes band.

hof mogen's group shotThey even let me sing a Neal Diamond song..which was a thrill. hof doug singingThey gave me a plaque and everything.hof plaque (461x640)

There were many musical influences in my life..especially Elvis and The Everly Brothers..but if the truth be told..back in the early fifties, one of my childhood heroes was (gulp) Liberace.

Yup, I admit it, back in the early days of TV, the flamboyant pianist was a regular visitor into the Lund home on Thursday evenings and I was glued to the set watching his every move and listening to every chord. I liked all the music he played from classical to show tunes to the Beer Barrel Polka. Mom was a big fan too and together we’d guess on when Liberace would turn to the camera during a performance and give his trademark wink. We really didn’t think too much about it at the time but today, I suppose, most everyone would immediately conclude from his mannerisms, sparkly outfits and speaking style that Liberace was gay. It turns out he was, of course, but such things just never crossed my young mind nor do they matter today. All I could think about was how much I wanted to play piano like him..hof liberace I’m sure my mother would have loved a keyboard celebrity in the house too..which is probably why she didn’t object too strenuously when I mentioned the possibility of taking lessons. The only piano teacher in town was Mrs. John Miller..the school superintendent’s wife.  Mrs. Miller charged one dollar per half hour..which may sound cheap but this was at a time when my old man was making two bucks an hour working construction ten hours a day. Plus there was another problem; a big one. We didn’t have a piano; pretty hard to be the next Liberace without one. Here the story gets a little fuzzy. All I remember is coming home from school one day and there it was; a big old upright piano that had somehow been squeezed into the little bedroom I shared with my two brothers. I have no idea where mom got the thing or how she paid for it but there was no turning back now. If she found the cash for the instrument, she’d figure a way to come up with the money for lessons. But I was in for another big shock that day.  My mother sat down to this old relic, placed her diminutive fingers on the black keys and, to my amazement, started banging out the only tune she knew; that was like Chopsticks only more up tempo and a lot more complicated requiring the use of all her fingers and the entire keyboard. I begged her to teach it to me..which she eventually did but pointed out that it was just a novelty for fun, not really playing.   At age 12 or 13, I was one of Mrs. Miller’s older students so I’m sure she expected me to catch on to the basics in a hurry. To be honest, it was kind of embarrassing having her sit so close to me with the smell of face powder in my nostrils and that blasted metronome ticking away as I tried to bang out simple little tunes from the red John Thompson book for modern piano. “Papa Haydn’s dead and gone..but his memory lingers on. When his heart was full of bliss, he wrote merry tunes like this.”

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Mrs. Miller wasn’t about to provide any shortcuts even to a student of such advanced age. I can’t say that the lessons were boring..more like terrifying because, no matter how much my mother prodded and pleaded, I rarely practiced until a few hours before making the walk over to my teacher’s house because A) I was lazy. B)I hated those silly childish tunes and C) I’d discovered rock and roll. That first recital by all of Mrs. Miller’s piano students was one of the most humiliating evenings of my young life. I struggled through a glorified version of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”  and then, to muffled applause, shuffled back to my seat vowing to never go through this again. But then, one of advanced students (younger than me) concluded the program performing one of the most beautiful melodies I’d ever heard. I found out later it was “Theme From Liebenstrum” by Franz Liszt. It was in the back of John Thompson’s red book Grade TWO..which I had at home.

For the next week, I practiced that piece over and over until I had it down perfectly with just the right inflections in all the proper places. I even raised my right hand after playing some of the notes, just like Liberace. My mom couldn’t believe how lovely it sounded and my renewed enthusiasm to play. I couldn’t wait for Mrs. Miller to hear it and immediately recognize that she had been holding this talented young man back. But after I was through, she only said that it, “It was very nice, Douglas, but you musn’t jump ahead. We need to crawl before we walk..walk before we run.”  Much to my mom’s disappointment but financial relief, I quit piano lessons shortly thereafter.

There was a guitar at home with my name on it. My cousin and I had visions of stardom and beautiful young ladies cowering at our feet like Elvis so, in the same room where the old upright piano now sat idle, we practiced and practiced learning guitar chords until our fingers bled and singing along with 45 rpm records till our young voices grew hoarse.doug and grouse practicing guitar

If only I’d applied that enthusiasm toward the piano. But, true dedication, it seems, is often motivated by lust and fame.

I thought about those early musical beginnings as they gave me a plaque for contributions to the history of Rock and Roll in South Dakota..and kind of wished Mrs. Miller could have been there to see it.

Palm Sunday Sacrifice

So it was congregation participation day at our little country church (Springdale Lutheran) on this Palm Sunday. Everyone..not just the kids..was
issued palm fronds to wave as we marched around the sanctuary and gathering room singing.
Our return to the pews was followed by a stirring and meaningful number from the enthusiastic adult choir. Then it was showtime as Pastor Trey and several church members assumed the role of key characters from the Passion story with responses from the audience and hymns mixed in. All in all, a most meaningful service followed by Communion.  Now, it was not the drive-by Communion this time but the real deal where we actually all go up in groups and kneel at the altar to receive the sacraments. I used to prefer this option but that was before my knees grew old, tired and unwilling to support the weight of my mass without letting me know in no uncertain terms..this is gonna hurt. Considering the pain our Lord suffered, I’m a little ashamed to admit my concentration on the meaning of the moment can be clouded with thoughts about what will I do if I can’t rise to my feet after Pam disperses the little cup of Christ’s blood (Mogen David wine) given and shed for me. But it was all good and, like I said, the readings were first rate.
I’m always moved at the part of Jesus’ crucifixion where one of the two thieves being put to death at the same time feels remorseful and says so. He then receives assurance from the dying Savior, that, indeed,  the thief would join Him that day in paradise. That seems to supersede all other biblical requirements and gives real hope to those of us who often figure we can never measure up to the demands of salvation.
After church, we needed to stop at the grocery store for a few items…including bread and wine. (Hmm)
On the way home, I was still filled with the spirit and decided to let others know it was Palm Sunday by sticking our fronds out the car window and waving them at others driving down East 10th street. I was hoping to get a few honks of approval from my fellow motorists but most just smiled or looked really puzzled as they passed by.

Linda sort of sunk down in her seat at my spontaneous calling to evangelize Sioux Falls traffic…and, even though it’s Spring and Easter tide, my un-gloved hand nearly froze..so I brought the tropical foliage back in the warm car feeling satisfied I’d suffered enough for the Lord this day.

What a frond we have in Jesus.

What a frond we have in Jesus.

Chefs Of Keloland

I don’t dread Monday’s like some people do; never have really..except, maybe when I was in High School and Jay Ruckdaschel had promised a Monday biology test the preceding Friday.

I suppose it’s because I didn’t dread my job at Keloland; especially since my work hours were such that I never had to set an alarm clock to jar me into consciousness each morning. For several years during the 90’s I looked forward to the first day of the work week because it was Monday Menu Day on the Early News at 5; a six minute cooking segment featuring invited guests who would come on and display their culinary skills. Co-host, Angela Kennecke and I would assist the cooks in their preparations then…to the delight of our audience..tasted each dish and give our opinion.

monday menu (640x424)

I forget the name of our 10 year old guest chef on Monday Menu but years later I did a story on him all grown up and a chef at Minervas; inspired, he said, by that experience on our show.

One of the questions people would often ask me over the years was weather I really liked the stuff people cooked on Monday Menu as much as it seemed or whether it was all an act. Well, truth is, most of the recipes were really good and worthy of our “mmmmm’s” and “oh, that’s delicious” comments. But there were plenty of exceptions.( More about that in a minute.)

I think our bosses at Keloland were pleasantly surprised at the popularity of Monday Menu. So much so that after a while, they built us a fancy new set that included cupboards as well as an actual stove and refrigerator so guests didn’t have to provide their own electric frying pan and ice chest. Each received a Monday Menu apron for appearing and their recipe was written up in the Shoppers News. Before long, Monday Menu was THE place to be for promoting a cause or event. For example, every spring a representative from Freeman’s Schmeckfest would be there to prepare some German cuisine; everything from boiled home-made sausage and kraut to Kuchen and poppy seed rolls. The Sons of Norway would promote their annual Lutefisk feed by force feeding some of that foul fish down our gullet. No amount of butter could make lutefisk palatable to me then or now. But I’d be first in line when we had the lefse bakers on.  Oh, we had some bizarre stuff people tried to pass off as food..especually during the tofu times when there was a nationwide effort to convince Americans that this gelatinous glob of goo could actually be a delicious alternative to unhealthy red meat that was clogging our hearts and shortening our lives. I’ve tried tofu baked, fried, in soups, salads and casseroles and if that’s all there was to eat, life wouldn’t be worth living anyway. I don’t believe I ever went “MMMMMMgood” after sampling anything made with tofu on Monday Menu. My hypocrisy only goes so far. There was the time when somebody made a warm salad that included lemon grass and nearly made me gag as did anything with liver as an ingredient. I was also never big on seafood so when a guest fixed that, I’d have Angela do the tasting honors..including the time we were served a whole trout including the head on a platter for us to try.  There were so many interesting cooks that appeared on the air with us. It was a thrill when Wynn Speece “The WNAX Neighbor Lady” was there. Wynn was a dear friend to the thousands who listened to her on the radio sharing her recipes and gentle conversation for over fifty years and it was such and honor when she came on Monday Menu at my request.

One of the more interesting characters on the show was Lawrence Diggs AKA “The Vinegar Man” from Roslyn, South Dakota. An expert on all things vinegar, Diggs came to Roslyn from busy San Francisco for some peace and quiet and do some writing. Before long, the townfolk thought he should set up a vinegar shop on Main Street which led to the International Vinegar Museum and Vinegar Festival in Roselyn each summer. Anyway, Diggs came on with several different varieties of vinegar for us to taste and to explain his passion for this sour wine. Angela and I sampled each one on a sugar cube and were fascinated by Diggs’ knowledge of something most of us think very little about.

Also memorable was the appearance of our colleague and fellow anchorman, Steve Hemmingsen who agreed to prepare and share his legendary recipe for Beef Wellington. It was by far the longest most complicated recipe ever featured on Monday Menu and we darned near had to join the CBS Evening News in progress because there was no way Steve was going to get finished within the allotted six minutes. Thankfully, there was no liver in his recipe and it was delicious.

Most everyone who worked at Keloland TV had a turn or two on Monday Menu including Angela and me..several times.

I’ve often been asked which one of the foods featured was my favorite.

There were lots and lots of really good things to eat but, I suppose, the one that sticks in my mind was Philly Cheese Steak served up by our new General Manager, Mark Antonitis; a Philadelphia native . We were understandably uneasy about having the boss cook on the show. What if it was inedible?.  In fact, Angela and I were both so nervous that we each made the mistake of calling it Philly Cheese CAKE during the intro.But we got through it and when it came time for the tasting well..the thinly sliced and quickly griddled sirloin beef served on a long crusty toasted roll with caramelized onions and  melted cheese, was to die for.

Ironically, not long after he cooked that fabulous feast on the show, Mr. Antonitis called a meeting to announce he was changing the format of the Early News dropping all the daily features including Monday Menu. He figured a news show should have more…well, NEWS. Mondays weren’t as much fun after that.

Man, all this talk about food has my gut growlin’ .

“Linda, do we have any sirloin steak, hoagie rolls, onions and Cheese Whiz in the house?”

The Miracle of Lent

What are you giving up for Lent?
We Christians love to ask that question and compare the degrees of personal sacrifice and hardship we are willing to endure for a few weeks late winter..early Spring.
Christian #1 “I’ve gone without chocolate for a month, thought I’d never get through it.”
Christian #2 “Well, I haven’t had the TV on since Fat Tuesday and missed out on the best parts of the Olympics and “Survivor.”  Who was kicked off?  No don’t tell me until Easter Sunday.”
I guess the main reason people give up pleasurable things during lent is to serve as a reminder of Christ’s suffering.
I usually don’t take part in the giving-up thing because I’m always reminded of His suffering this time of year from an episode in my youth.lent (340x300)
During the week of Ash Wednesday, every kid in Sunday School class at First Lutheran Church in Volga would be issued a container about the size of a pop can. It had a slot in the top and was wrapped in holy purple construction paper with our names written on it.
It was our responsibility to fill those cans with coins during Lent. The money would then be donated to the poor or to foreign missions or something. We were to bring those Lenten Coin Containers back to church with us on Easter Sunday. Then each class would march up front to deposit them on the altar demonstrating the financial sacrifice we had made for our risen Lord.
Both my two brothers and I always had good intentions of putting every spare piece of change we had into those cans but would wind up blowing it on candy, the pin-ball machine at City Cafe or the must-have spring edition of baseball cards that just arrived at Westaby’s Clover Farm store.
Before long it was the Saturday night before Easter morning and we’d only managed to drop a few measly pennies in those cans over the last 40 days and now faced the embarrassment of having the whole congregation discover what sinful, lazy cheapskates those Lund boys were.
And that’s when God worked His miracle!
As we reached for our mostly empty Lenten Coin Containers and prepared to face the scorn of the masses at church, we were shocked to find the cans were suddenly heavy..filled nearly to the brim with pennies, nickels, dimes and a few quarters.
A guardian angel had come in the night to save us!
I think of that wonderful angel a lot. She was not only there for me at Easter but anytime I needed someone to bail me out of trouble with no questions asked.
I sure miss you mom.