Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

February 27, 2004


This weekend I will be at the Fargo Home and Garden Show, promoting the nursery from my little booth. The Home Show is the first promotion I do every year. It takes a while to get the rust out and remember the names of the trees and the answers to all the questions. I'll have to take along the reference books.

I am staying in a hotel for the weekend, so I may not be able to hook up to the internet to make weblog entries. And the cat will have the house to itself for a couple of days. I am sure there will be some loud meows when I get back. I mention this because there are a few of you who worry if I don't write every day!

February 26, 2004

Vision of the Future

I have always wondered what the world would be like when the Jeremys and Justins and Joshs go into the nursing home. I am used to Elmer, Oscar, Emil, Melvin and the like. Those are the old names.

Well, today I met a farmer who's not yet old, but must be at least in his mid-seventies, at the Flom Cafe. We had a nice chat--then I noticed that the name on his jacket said Justin. Couldn't be, I thought, it must be his grandson's jacket. But no, somebody said, "See ya, Justin," when he walked out.

He was a Justin before his time. I'll know times are changing again when people start naming their boys Elmer, Ingvart, Ernie, Arnie, again. Or, when the names Bertha, Agnes, Doris, Alma, Orpha, Bernice and the like start getting attached to newborn females.

Excursion to Flom

In what has become an annual ritual, Aunt Olla and I went out to the Flom Cafe today to debrief from my trip with Cousin Ilene. Today, the debriefing happened over tenderized steaks, mashed potatoes, and some very good raspberry shortcake.

Flom is a town of any beaten path. The road ends there. Its population remains firmly in the double digits, where it has been for much of the past century.

The cafe has three tables. The food is always good. It is a marvel the place stays open, although all three tables were busy this noon.

It was the first time Aunt Olla has been out for a drive since November. The drive from her apartment in Twin Valley over to Flom crosses her old stomping grounds, where she and her six brothers and sisters, one of whom was my grandfather, grew up in the 1920s.

Of course, most of the farms are gone. Olla can tell me where all the farmplaces used to be. She also pointed out the spot on the Wild Rice River where crowds would gather for Fourth of July celebrations and the like. Now, barely enough people live in the area to fill an SUV.

Olla spent much of the winter down with a virus. Before I left last November, I left directions for her record player so she could listen to Christmas music--but the thing foiled her, and we went over everything again today. I discovered that my directions were difficult to decipher three months after I wrote them. I thought they were perfectly clear at the time.

Olla got out her old albums and discovered that her favorite record was missing from its cover--she must have left it in her last record player when she sold it ten years ago. So, an old polka album recorded by some locals was the alternative.

Reading the album cover, I discovered that most of the musicians were from the Clearbrook area. The main man, named Larson, had a Phd in musicology from the University of Minnesota. I trust he wrote about the great old-time-music tradition of this area. Many of the polkas, waltzes, etc., on the album were written by locals and played on instruments brought over from the Old Country.

So, Olla's fine. She and Florence are already planning excursions for when the weather turns decent. Florence is now nearly 89 and Olla is 92. Their first venture will be to head to the Ogema cafe for lunch. I suspect it won't be long before they venture far into lake country and get lost.

February 25, 2004

Winston and Franklin

Just finished the excellent book with the above title by Jon Meacham. It is an account of the friendship between Churchill and Roosevelt which lasted from the beginning of the war until Roosevelt's death in April of 1945.

Writers will never tire of Churchill; the mounds of evidence about the man are endlessly fascinating. Roosevelt is another matter. His brilliance is obvious. But his lying, his supreme egotism and his ability to hide all emotion make him a more difficult topic for biographers.

Winston and Franklin offers fascinating insight into the character of both men. Roosevelt lied to Churchill as he did to everybody else in his life, but yet Churchill told his personal physician, Lord Moran, "I love that man."

Churchill's drinking was a subtext throughout. Churchill wasn't comfortable without a drink in his hand. Roosevelt was fond of cocktail hour, but insisted upon mixing all cocktails himself. Churchill found Roosevelt's martinis intolerable, and would excuse himself to go to the bathroom in order to dump out the martini and replace it with water. As things got rolling, somebody would sneak Churchill a drink with which he was more comfortable.

Roosevelt could be cruel. Determined to make friends with Stalin, Roosevelt decided that the only way to do it was to make fun of Churchill until Joe laughed, since Stalin was fond of poking cruel fun at Churchill himself. At the Teheran conference, Roosevelt said to Churchill, "I hope you don't mind what I am about to do," and proceeded to make such cruel fun of Churchill that the British prime minister was quite hurt. Roosevelt got his wish. Stalin finally laughed, and Roosevelt felt he had broken the ice. No apologies to Churchill were forthcoming.

Of course, Roosevelt was in the presence of his mistress when he died. She quickly left, but somebody broke the news to Eleanor, who found out on the day of her death that her husband had been seeing Lucy Rutherford often in the twenty-some years since he had promised Eleanor he would never see his mistress again. Furthermore, Eleanor's daughter had helped set up the meetings.

For his part, Churchill may have been instrumental in the break-up of his son Randolph's marriage to Pamela Bigby, eventually known as Pamela Harriman. Churchill seemed to encourage liasons between his daughter-in-law and Averill Harriman, the US ambassador to Great Britain. Pamela eventually divorced Randolph and married Harriman. Randolph never forgave his father.

Roosevelt once suggested to Clementine Churchill, Winston's wife, that it would be wonderful if his son and the Churchill's daughter could "get something going." Clementine tartly reminded the president that both were married to somebody else.

It should be noted that notions of marital fidelity were very relaxed amongst the upper classes on both sides of the Atlantic during the early part of the 20th century. Churchill's mother had at least 250 lovers during her marriage, including the King, and his father died of syphillis.

Churchill wore Roosevelt out. When he stayed at the White House, Churchill would awaken the president at any hour to deliver some speech about the war. And they were always speeches, always eloquent, and always long. To get some rest, Roosevelt would send Churchill off somewhere else to be entertained for a few days. In once instance, Roosevelt left Churchill to have the run of the White House while he escaped to Hyde Park.

Both Churchill and Roosevelt were children of privilege, doted on by servants of one sort or another for all of their lives. Yet, they both pushed themselves to physical exhaustion during the war. Churchill once had a heart attack in the White House. In fact, Churchill's doctor kept the truth from him, and Churchill went on working right through.

Roosevelt was a lonely man. He once said, "Either I am Exhibit A or I am alone." Churchill, on the other hand, was always surrounded by family, however contentious relations with them became, or by friends.

Their friendship was that of two men who bore the weight of the world upon their shoulders. They got together so often because when they were in agreement, things happened, and they happened fast. Both realized the value of the other, although as the war drew to a close and it became apparent that the power of the British was receding while American power towered over the world, Roosevelt became cooler towards Churchill, neglecting to respond to some of Churchill's personal telegrams and lying to him more brazenly and often.

A fascinating book. Any book with Churchill as a main character is bound to be fascinating. I am satisfied to get my Roosevelt second-hand, through books about people around him who are more personally likable.

Stay-at-home parents

Reader BW responds to yesterday's ramble on education:

This may sound archaic and very much politically incorrect, but I think the whole works started going sour when all the moms left home to pursue a paycheck.  I believe that some mothers are better mothers for pursuing a genuine calling, but for most women now the job is an escape from doing something that is not respected in this society. The only times that I wished for a job instead of being a mom at home were the times that I felt my mom job was something to be embarassed about.  If you were at home, you weren't doing anything worthwhile because you weren't making money, didn't have a title or a retirement plan or a job description. 

A male friend of mine lost his job when the economy went south so is staying home with his two young children while his wife continues her career. I think he struggles with a modern twist of the same dilemma. He knows he's doing the right thing by spending the young years of his childrens' life with them, but the pull of career and legitimacy and all that claptrap sometimes enters in.

But there's no more important job than taking care of the kids. I was lucky to spend my childhood involved with my parents' work here on the nursery. I think it would have been a different and more difficult world if we kids had to wait for both my parents to come home exhausted from a 9 to 5 job every day.

In response to the frequent excuse that a family these days needs two jobs to make ends meet, BW responds:

BULL!  Most families with two paychecks are still under the gun because between the expenses of the second job and the constant redefining of "needs" they're no better off than a one paycheck family with a sane sense of values.

It is amazing to me: People tend to always spend a little more than they have, no matter how much they have.

Much ado

Bush stirred the pot today by coming out in favor of amending the constitution to "protect" marriage. He said nothing about how he is going to protect the institution from people like Brittany Spears. Nor did he say how those 3600 couples in San Francisco getting married hurts anybody else.

I think he (or Karl Rove) made a political miscalculation. He should have ignored this issue. He'll get the right-wing votes anyway, and now he loses some moderates, as well as those who don't like to tinker with the Constitution.

I watched the parade of cable news shows tonight. Larry King et al marched out the indignant reverends and the posturing congresspersons and the gay activists and they all had a big fight. Makes for good television, I guess.

The young San Francisco mayor seems pretty sharp. When Congresswoman Uptight kept asking him if he was going to marry polygamists and people who want to marry their dogs next, he laughed her off.

Then the minister, who was sitting next to a gay movie producer, decided to make it personal and appeal to the producer to avail himself of the gift of eternal life by turning from his life of sin. Give them both credit--they maintained charitable relations throughout the hour.

I think its kind of touching to see all those happy couples in Frisco. I don't think it hurts anybody else at all. Good grief, people. If you don't like it, don't do it yourself. The right for us to interfere with others private lives ends at the tip of our nose.

Amend the Constitution? What about the Declaration of Independence? Isn't it there where it says something about the freedom of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?

February 24, 2004


The annual tax bill came yesterday. It is usually the occasion for much weeping and gnashing of teeth, but this year's wasn't so bad. I don't know if I have the big tax cut to thank, or what.

When you think of what we get for our taxes, I don't get so upset. Good roads, all over the country, over which our goods arrive in relatively good shape. Safe bridges. In Minnesota, we have reasonably good schools and reasonably well-run and clean nursing homes, especially in the rural areas.

I'd rather pay local and state taxes, however, than to send that check to the IRS. I do know that many of the federal dollars come back to the area in the form of subsidies, but I also know that a bunch of it goes to overseas projects I view with hesitance, and that with the dollars which flow from the federal government to the local area come strings, strings and more strings.

I haven't much faith as I used to in government to solve problems. As crazy as our health care system is, I would hate to see it turned over to government bureaucracy. It might just get crazier. I just talked to a retired agriculture department official who is convinced that we would be better off if the department were abolished. He was referring to ag department functions such as tampering with markets via tariffs and subsidies, and even food safety. I don't see this right off, but he was viewing the agency from within.

Any attempt to control education from the top usually fails. The key to education is to get good teachers and let them do their work. Each teacher should develop his or her notion of what his or her topic matter requires, and his or her own style. Some styles resonate with some kids, other styles will resonate with others.

After all, what do people remember 25 years hence? The topic matter? No, they remember the character of their teachers. My high school friends and I still love to talk about our high school teachers. We had some good ones. But we don't talk about the topic matter they taught us, we talk about their classroom manner and we still try to guess what made them tick.

From my experience, if you have more than 25 kids in the room--of any age group--little education happens. So, keeping class sizes down is a noble goal. But imposing standards from the top and then testing, testing, testing, to see if the kids have memorized this or that thing that they are supposed to know just seems like an entirely joyless, and in the end, fruitless, approach.

So, the upshot is I think there are entire fields of endeavor which the federal government should just leave alone. Entirely. Easier said than done, of course.

February 23, 2004

Cat Quotes

Reader KS forwards the following quotes about cats:

Two things are perfect in the world---the clock and the cat
--Emile Auguste Chartier

There is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest. For there is nothing
brisker than his life when in motion.
--Christopher Smart

Before a cat will condescend
To treat you as a trusted friend,
Some little token of esteem
Is needed, like a dish of cream.
--T.S. Eliot

Watch a cat when it enters a room for the first time.
It searches and smells about, it is not quiet for a moment, it trusts
nothing, until it has examined and made acquaintance with everything.
--Jean Jacques Rousseau

February 22, 2004

Sex and the City's final episode tonight!

The nation mourns. I watched a few episodes of the much-heralded show in hotel rooms on the trip, and was impressed by how completely awful it was. A bunch of overwrought, self-centered and completely shallow females mooning over even worse males. Lots of navel gazing--do I really love him? Should I cheat on him? Should I sleep with an older man? What about a younger one? What are my friends going to think? What should I wear? What should I wear? How should I do my hair? Good grief.

Spring training

Pitchers and catchers report to training camp this weekend. Baseball has started. Hopes are high.

As for the Twins, it is difficult to tell what will happen. Pitching is always the key. The last two years, the Twins went into the season expecting that their starting pitching would be their strength. For the most part, it failed. Milton got injured. Mays got injured. Radke didn't pitch well, and was also injured. Rick Reed showed his age. Even so, the Twins won their division both years due to their unexpectedly strong bullpen.

This year, both the bullpen and the starting rotation look weaker on paper than last year. However, the Twins have a good stable of young pitchers with loads of potential. Jesse Crain is a name you are going to hear a lot of, I think. He hasn't given up a home run in his entire minor league career. He throws 97 miles per hour with a sinking motion on his fastball. He is utterly unproven, but could step up to be the Twins stopper.

The outfield is solid. Stewart, Hunter and Jones are good on defense and are strong hitters. The infield is defensively strong. Rivas and Guzman have talent. If they grow up to the point where they show up to play every day, they could be great. Koskie and Mientkewitz should be in better playing shape this year. Both were dragged down by injuries most of last season. Mientkewitz's defense wasn't as good as it has been in the past, and Koskie's hitting suffered.

The highlight will be watching 20-year-old catcher Joe Mauer of St. Paul. He is regarded as the best prospect in all of baseball. The pressure on him will be enormous. He already has a million dollars from his signing bonus in the bank, and that didn't seem to corrupt him. We'll see now if he can handle the pressure of national media scrutiny. We will also see how the pitchers respond to having a young kid tell them what to throw.

It should be a fun season. Now if the networks could work it out so we can see the Twins on the satellite dish. They're still dickering. It would be a long summer without the Twins on TV.

Drips from the roof

What a difference a week makes. Last weekend was sunny, but blustery and cold. This weekend, the temperatures have warmed enough to cause a little dripping of melting snow. Those drips raise my morale a great deal.

When it is cold, I can barely muster the energy to do the minimum work necessary in a day. When it warms up just a little, my energy level increases dramatically.

I know others with the same problem. Motivation becomes difficult in the winter. Hibernation urges prevail. Although it is important to fight the lethargy, it is best not to expect to get much done when it is cold or you just end up getting upset with yourself for being lazy.