February 13th, 2015


Since I met Cousin Tina of Scottsdale a couple of years ago, I have also gotten to know her friend and conference minister (Tina is an ordained United Church of Christ minister) John Dorhauer. He is an avid baseball fan and I have enjoyed looking at the two rooms of baseball memorabilia he keeps in his house in Phoenix. His is a fanatic follower of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

One discussion at lunch last month was...what was Carl Yastremski's batting average when he won the Triple Crown? After a few seconds of debate, we realized that there is no need to speculate when we can find the answer on our phones. 

However, John''s going to have to pack up his baseball stuff and his other belongings and move, as a few minutes ago he was named to head the 1,000,000 strong national United Church of Christ. 

John is a strong advocate of the disenfranchised. He will always stand up for the less fortunate. His Christianity is one of action. He is also incorruptible, which will make him an exceptional leader and an authoritative voice in times when so many religioius leaders have become obsessed with political power.

Congratulations to John!

February 12th

Ginsburg strikes again

Nobody on the Supreme Court looks more staid than Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. However, late in her career, perhaps due to her recent struggle with cancer, she has loosened up more than the tightly wound bun in her hair would indicate. 

Ginsburg was recently asked how many women should be on the Supreme Court (nobody asks that question about men). "Nine!" she responded. 

February 9th

A rough few weeks...


The past couple of months have been difficult here in the small town as more people than normal have died. “They say it comes in threes,” has been replaced by “when it rains, it pours.”


I include personal remembrances to illustrate the web of small town connections, and in a couple of cases to point out how living in a small town requires that you reconcile differences over the decades. At its best, small-town life is about forgiveness. 


Above is a picture of Carlton and Hazel Roed which I stole off Facebook. Carlton and Hazel died last week in a car crash at age 88. They were one of those respectful, loving, quiet couples who might have died within days of each other had nature been allowed to take its course. 


When I told Dad of their death, he informed me that Hazel had been one of his teachers at the old one-room school on the corner of our farm. 


What impact can one quiet old couple have? Immense. At their funeral this past weekend, ninety floral arrangements jammed the church. The flower shop quit taking orders as they had neither the time nor the flowers to complete them all. 


I had exactly one conversation with the Roeds in my life, and it happened three weeks ago at the grocery store when I was home for a few days. I thanked them for contributing to my campaign, and for hosting a sign at the top of their drive. 


After their death, it was amazing to watch on Facebook as people decades younger related their stories of remembered kindnesses. 


Kenny Sather died yesterday. He was the longest tenured guest at the Fertile Hilton. Kenny’s mother passed away during his birth. He lived a life as a farmhand outside of Fertile, working mainly for the Leo Lindberg family. When Thelma Lindberg, Leo’s wife, was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease last year and seemingly didn't know anybody, the Hilton staff rolled her past Kenny’s wheelchair. She pointed to Kenny and said, “He’s good!” 


Kenny melted into tears. 


“Hello there young feller!” was Kenny’s standard greeting when I said hello.


Dee Dee Grant spent her last years at the Hilton. She was a friend of Aunt Olla’s. Jealousy of Dee Dee’s fashionable glasses drove Aunt Olla to get new “more mod” frames at age 102. 


Dee Dee was born here, lived her middle days away, then returned in her old age to get some of the finest care available and to be amongst her kin, the dignified Hamre clan. 


She called me a few times when Aunt Olla would go off on some kick. “You have got to talk some sense into her!” she once implored. “The dining room is not filled with lesbians!” 


Reid Wahlin lost his father Johnny in December. Reid’s long struggle with depression ended last month. Like his father, Reid gave to others. His obituary tells the story. Reid had a penetrating, unconventional view of life and was prone to make observations so true that it would make you wince. He was an open book. I have a theory that people who put themselves out there like Reid always did unwittingly produce more ammunition with which to punish themselves when they get down. But Reid kept up his love for people anyway. 


Grant Ellegaard was a character. He passed away during surgery last month. He had several dogs, which he treated like family. 


Grant’s love for dogs sent him over the edge when I wrote satirical column in 1996 about people who think dogs are family. He called and told me off in colorful terms. A year later, we had a little confrontation at the gas station over the dog issue. But that blew over and by this summer, Grant several times gave me a thumbs up and said, “glad you’re running.” His encouragement meant a lot. 


Carole Engelstad was my typing and psychology teacher in high school. She was very popular, but I was a little too full of myself for her taste and we didn’t get along at all. She could put you in your place in a hurry. 


Our stormy relationship continued when Carole was offended by a column I wrote which included the phrase, “even an altar guild can become a snake pit of gossip and revenge.” Carole was on the altar guild at Little Norway Church. She wrote an angry letter defending the honor of altar guilds to all the newspapers which carried my column, and a few which didn’t. 


But things got better. At a event paying tribute to veterans which I emceed, she waited afterwards to talk to me. “You made it dignified,” she said as she squeezed my hand and looked me in the eye. It was a high compliment, and one given in full recognition of our spats. I knew we would be friends from then on.


More recently, Carole developed dementia. Carole softened towards everybody. She gave me hugs, even kisses, when we met. We had good laughs. Her big family kept her active and out in public, which is just what dementia patients need, and that gave me many chances to see her in the last year. 


Another of Little Norway's stalwarts, Harriet Lundby still lived on her own when she, June Erickson and Ardis Bakke urged me to push for an assisted living. I called all three with reports. Harriet’s response to one call was typical of the no-nonsense approach of all three: “Don’t waste time talking to me, you need to get busy!”Ardis passed away before the assisted living was built, but June lives there now and Harriet lived there for a while before moving into the nursing home.  


A week before she passed away, Harriet signed the papers to sell her land. The lawyer spread the documents across her bed at the Hilton. He apologized for the mess. 


“Take your time!” Harriet said. “It isn’t every day that I have a lawyer kneeling by the side of my bed!”


Clarice Lindberg Aagenes was a neighbor and a fixture at St. John’s Lutheran, the brick church just two miles from the nursery which finally closed this winter. She was first married to Ray Lindberg. When he passed away, she married Donald, her high school sweetheart and widower who returned to the small town from a career away.  


Connie Tschosik was a boisterous sort with a loud voice and a big laugh. I didn’t know her at all, but she was a good customer and mother to Doug, an unfailingly polite gentleman who co-owns a gas station in town. 


Roger and I had exactly one conversation. I believe it occurred on a township road somewhere in the boonies where we had to pull over to let each other pass and while we were at it, we stopped for a brief visit. I could tell just from that conversation he was a gifted critic of the conventional non-sense. He is sort of a legend, and the stories point to a man who thought it silly to preserve himself for a long stay in the nursing home. 


Wink Tucker arrived in our town from California, where he was an optometrist. How did he get here? Long story short, his son came from the West Coast to UND to study aviation. There, he met his wife Becky, a Fertile woman. At a family gathering, the widower Wink met Becky’s sister’s mother-in-law Ann, another Fertile woman. They married and eventually settled in Fertile. Wink lived briefly at the Hilton before his passing. He adapted well to the small town, despite it being completely foreign to his experience, and took an active part in the local golf culture. 


Another Californian, Arlene, was a long-time neighbor with an infectious laugh. She, too, was a fixture at St. John’s church. She and husband Arne stood out for their relaxed, easy-going and calm approach to life. If I got wound up about something and wrote about it in a column, Arlene would see me on the street and say, “Oh, Eric!” and laugh. Underlying message: Relax, it isn’t worth getting so worked up.


Chee-Chee Flikke, like several of the above, saw through the small town non-sense. She just didn’t care about gossip. She lived life her way. She spent the last few years manning the express lane at Wal-mart in Crookston where she always made sure I was adequately ribbed when I came through. I enjoyed returning the favor. When she died too suddenly in December, her fellow employees set up a memorial to her in the express lane. 


Franny Gudvangen worked for my Uncle Orville and Aunt Ede and Cousin Gary at Lee Nursery for many years. I was so used to seeing her in overalls and a stocking cap (she worked sorting trees in the cold building) when I came to pick up trees that it took some time before I recognized her when she moved into the Hilton. 


Barbra worked for me at the nursery a couple of years. She was so down-to-earth and at home in the small town that I never guessed she had been out in the world until I read her obituary. 


And Aunt Olla lives on! When she was sick two weeks ago, she asked me if there were people waiting for her room at the Hilton. I said no, there are plenty beds available. No rush. 


February 5th

Comeback kid


Went to see Aunt Olla today for the first time since I returned home. Her spirits were high and her mind was the best it has been in many months. I ran into Dad on the way in. He had just been to see Olla and he couldn't believe how good she was. 

We took this picture for Aunt Adeline in Reno. Aunt Adeline turned 95 this week. I showed Olla some pictures from Adeline's birthday party, and she said, "Man, she looks good." They are the only two left from that generation on the Bergeson side. 

Aunt Olla was filled with theories. For example, she is sure that the owners of the home are from the same part of Norway as Mama. "That's why they treat me so well," she said. 

Her room is drafty, she said. It has been that way for six years, since that guy who was mad as a wet hen took off the corner of the room with his car. "The man they hired to fix the hole didn't do a very good job," she said. "So there are drafts. But you can't have it all!" 

"Boy, I am in the presence of a profound educator," she said, apparently referring to me. "I have to make sure I speak well!"

I assured her that she was speaking better than she had in a long time. She has no memory of her near-death experience of three weeks ago. She has not only recovered, she is better than she was before it happened! 

In this case, loss of memory is a good thing. However, Olla remembered many things today she hasn't remembered recently. She knew she was 103-years old. She remembered details of stories without grasping for words. She remembered some of the names without coaxing. She also remembered that Dad had just been in to visit, and she was well aware that I hadn't been in for a while.

"Some great nephew you are!" she said. 

February 4th

Confronting trolls

Yesterday morning, I happened upon a fascinating podcast of This American Life. It centered on the hate spewed anonymously in internet comment sections. This is a piece written by the female writer who confronted a man who harassed her online. His abuse started with a comment section but went much farther. In the podcast, you will hear the woman visit with the man who harassed her. It is well worth the time, as is the following segment on "vocal fry." 

This American Life is probably the most thought-provoking radio show on the air today. 

Why do comment sections inevitably degenerate into hateful namecalling? In part because human nature's worst side is unleashed by anonymity. Beyond that, the internet allows anybody with the ability to type (spelling and grammar are optional) to spew their unfiltered opinions far and wide. Others spew back. The cycle escalates.

Meanwhile, if the above show is an indicator, those who are hateful online are normal people as they move through every day life, greeting strangers, holding doors, helping old people cross the street, whatever. Only when parked in front of their computer do they turn evil. Or, perhaps, only when in front of their computer do they allow the evil which lurks in all of us to prevail. 

I thought of all the despicable email forwards which come from people I once thought were nice. 

The podcast above made me think again about people who seem to have fallen over the edge into hatred, at least if you follow them online. Are they really bad people deep down, or are they just like the troll in the article above––normal, functioning people with normal weaknesses who have found a way to vent, but who do so without any empathy for the people on the other end? 

Face-to-face interaction is important. It is more difficult to dehumanize a person standing in front of you than one who exists only in the abstract.  



As we approach the start of spring training, I wonder how the Twins will do. Will they have anybody who piques the interest of the fans? Baseball is entertainment, after all.

One of my saddest days as a Twins fan was when the team traded my favorite player at the time (who was acquired in a trade for my previous favorite player, Johan Santana) Carlos Gomez to the Milwaukee Brewers for J. J. Hardy. 

Gomez had talent. Everybody knew that. He could play center field like few others. But he drove the staid Twins nuts with his swing-for-the-fences approach at the plate. With so much speed in his legs, all the Twins wanted him to do was get on base and steal his way around. They didn't need him for home runs. 

So, they tried to change him. And they failed. 

One thing you don't do is try to change players with a Latin flair for the game, and for life. They won't. They'll just stay the same and enjoy life like they always have. They'll stand and watch their home runs. They'll get excited. Fans will love them. And they will drive opponents and management nuts. For to the Latin players it is just one thing to execute the plays, but another altogether to execute them with panache. The great Roberto Clemente played with joy, and so does Carlos Gomez. 

Unable to change him, and frustrated with his low batting average, the Twins traded Gomez away to the Brewers--who just plain let him be himself. And he has flourished. Yes, he causes fights when the other team takes exception to his enthusiasm. But he is an entertainer! And he loves life. 

I once had great seats to a Twins game. First row. Behind the Twins' dugout. The players stood for the national anthem. Gomez spent the entire anthem piling sunflower shells on the top the head of the coach in front of him. Gomez probably didn't know anthem etiquette, or perhaps he did and knew the coach wouldn't move. 

So, the Twins lost a fan favorite, a player who could eventually have rivaled the great Puckett in popularity. 

Here is his highlight reel for 2014. Notice how he throws the bat down when he knows he has hit one out. Notice his wierd way of running around the bases, always touching his ear as he crosses second base. 

And here is Gomez showing the joi de vivre typical of Latin players. As a dour northerner, I absolutely love to watch people who seem congenitally joyous. It must be all the sunshine. Here is him at his home in the Dominican Republic. 

The Twins should have just let Carlos be Carlos and watched ticket revenues soar. 

Back north


After a four-day trip from Tucson, I am back north. Just in time for a cold blast! 

The highlight of this trip was Portal, AZ and Cave Creek Canyon. I really enjoyed my eight days there. I spent six additional days in Tucson, but after the quiet of Portal (and compared to the quiet of home), the city wasn't all that great. 

The drive gets easier with the passing years, although I now take four days instead of three. Ice on the road from Kansas City to Omaha caused dozens of cars to go in the ditch during the night before I took the trek. Apparently, nobody was hurt. The auto body guys should be busy. Lots of dents. Several cars flipped, as did two semis. 

As I approached Flagstaff from the south, somebody jumped the guard rail and went down the steep hill. We were stopped for an hour or more. Two ambulances wormed their way through the stopped traffic. I hope nobody was hurt there, either, but I have not been able to find any article on the internet about the crash. 

Also near Flagstaff was a sign warning of elk. I thought, sure, no chance of seeing one. In the next mile, however, there was a dead elk cow on the side of the road--many times the size of a deer. I wonder what happened to that vehicle.


January 25th

Help on its way?

This article warms my heart to no end. I don't care that it is merely a blog entry and probably won't see the light of day in the broader media.

My sole reason for running for the House of Representatives was so this very thing could happen: Nursing home staff and administrators talking directly to the legislature in a public hearing about the dire problem of staffing in eldercare. And who is bringing it up? The Republicans! The new House speaker formed a committee on eldercare, and this was one of their first hearings. 

It is a shame that only a few Democrats (Kent Eken, most notably, as well as Rep. Huntley) brought this issue up, and that they were greeted with resistance. "It doesn't poll well," they were told. Of course it didn't poll well. Nobody knew what was going on unless they worked at a nursing home or had a relative as a resident!

Sometimes you have to lead the polls, not follow them. 

On this issue (and this issue alone), I say more power to the Republicans. Their governor, more than anybody, caused this problem by cutting nursing home funding for many consecutive years. Now it seems they have the gumption to fix it.

For the nursing homes which are struggling on a daily basis, and for residents whose care inevitably suffers when qualified staff can't be hired, let's hope that help is on its way. 

January 23rd

Cold Spell in Portal


Yesterday, it snowed lightly all day and never got above 33 degrees. Today, the sun came out to illuminate the frosting of snow on the cliffs, yet it remained quite chilly. My week here ends tomorrow morning, and I will go back to Tucson. 

A couple of days ago, I attended a meeting of the Portal Sewing Club in the local firehall. The club was hosting a lecture, and I was informed that the "whole town" would be there. The place was packed...for a lecture on ants in Brunei. It was potluck. 

Many biologists retire to this area because of the surfiet of biological forms of all sort. This retired professor is an internationally recognized scientist who studies the relationship between ants and plants. Her research has taken her all over the world.

In Brunei, she has seen the tiny country go from a relatively open society to a nation governed by sharia law. The change came about because the source of Brunei's great wealth, with for so long made its sultan the richest man in the world, is drying up. No longer can the leadership buy off the people. So, it must repress them. Brutally. 

As a woman, this has made research there difficult. 

It was a fascinating lecture followed up with intelligent questions from the mixture of people present, from long-time Portal residents, probably some ranchers, to teachers and professors. 

Because I had no food to offer, I left before the potluck. 

The cabin I have stayed in isn't made for winter weather, so the little propane heater rumbled all night trying to keep up. I like to sleep cold, so that didn't bother me. But oh, was the floor cold this morning! 

Birder couples have come and gone throughout the week. I am convinced that birding is something couples do to create commonality between themselves once the kids leave. Birds fill the empty nest. 

Some are competitive, which is just silly. I saw this, and you did not! I win! Yippee!

Goodie for you. 

But most are at least interesting people, so I have not been without human contact. 



January 21st

Mexican Jay

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