Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

May 22, 2004

The Public, cont.

I think a lot about manners every day, especially when I am dealing with the public. I try to keep my manners on a reasonable level--not always with success. But also I get a chance to observe those who have manners as opposed to those who don't.

One customer arrives each year with hair perfectly coiffed and manages to pick out a pickup load of flowers without getting one bit of dirt on her immaculate clothing. She is like a queen, and maintains that dignity even while purchasing dirty plants. Of course, everybody loves her, and we love to see her arrive.

Handling plants which died is a delicate matter. We don't guarantee over winter, and sometimes people just assume that we do. Most of the time I just give them a new plant, hoping they will read our guarantee sometime soon.

However, the ones who make it particularly difficult are those who have planned their speech ahead of time. They are aggrieved. They did everything right. Just as you said. And the thing died. What a crummy nursery. I want my money back, etc., etc. They aren't happy with a replacement--they want to get things off their chest. I suspect that the anger released on the nursery staff comes from deeper sources than a dead plant.

They are lawyers. They box you in and won't let you out gracefully. They want to obtain a conviction.

I understand this--but it strikes me as a point where one could display good manners. Good manners means allowing a graceful way out for others. I don't like feeling boxed in by somebody's accusations. It makes my temper flare a bit. However, I am more than happy to replace plants or somehow make recompense to people who are graceful in the presentation of their problem.

On a more general level, I find that manners seems to involve overlooking human foibles when you can, looking for the best in people even as they are being obnoxious, and allowing them a way out without loss of face. The Asians are more sensitive to this than we are. They understand the importance of not losing face to people. We, on the other hand, are a nation of lawyers, most without law degrees.

May 21, 2004

The Public

Dealing with the public is the biggest test for me during the busy season at the nursery. Even the nicest people can start to sprout horns when they become members of the public. It helps to see the foibles of the public with humor.

The most funny are those people who call when we are real busy and expect you to have time to converse idly for about ten minutes. They ask the same question over and over, and usually top off the conversation with a little debate with themselves about when they might make it over to the nursery.

Well, I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow, so I can't come then, but I might be there Saturday. If not, I'll come sometime next week, if the weather's good. Otherwise, I'll send my son down, and he can get my geraniums. That might be Tuesday because he has work Monday--well, he works half days on Monday, but he has to pick up Jeremy after school. Well, we'll see.

So, I say, come whenever you can, we'll have geraniums.

But that doesn't end it. Oh, and another thing! I have this plant from Home Depot that my daughter gave me for Mother's Day--well, actually it was a little after Mother's Day--she was late again this year--but it says on the label to plant it in shade. How much shade does it need?

Well, what kind of plant is it?

Oh, I don't have the label here--its a nice green thing with blooms on it. She got it at Home Depot. You know what those are?

No idea, m'am.

Hold on a second, I'll go get the label.

Clunk goes the phone. Long pause.

Okay, its an azalea.

An azalea! Well, it would be best if you moved to Iowa before planting that. They don't grow here.

They don't? Why not? Why would they sell them, then?

I don't know, go ask the folks at Home Depot.


More abuse

The Washington Post has more disturbing pictures of prisoner abuse this morning. Strange, twisted stuff. Some prisoners were made to act like animals. I find that particularly disturbing as it was one of the ways Nazis humiliated the Jews. Where do these people come up with this stuff?

But even more disturbing is the news in the New York Times this morning that Department of Defense lawyers wrote many memos suggesting ways the military could get around the Geneva Conventions. It is clear that top officials viewed the Geneva Conventions as an impediment to be evaded rather than a tradition to be honored, a tradition which, if observed, would have preserved the argument that the United States came to Iraq as a liberating force.

The State Department objected to the direction taken by the rest of the administration. Secretary of State Colin Powell argued that violating the Geneva Conventions would undermine everything we were trying to do. He pointed to a "century of tradition" during which time the United States has done its best to observe the rules of war.

Again, it is obvious that the administration is going to hang out a few people to dry and hope that the furor dies down. It is also obvious that the permissive atmosphere, a culture of contempt for international law, came from the highest levels of the administration. The disturbing pictures are a tip of the iceberg. The responsibility for the scandal goes very high.

It makes me sick that American soldiers acted like Nazis, tormenting their prisoners is very sick ways. It makes me angry that a permissive atmosphere towards prisoner abuse was allowed to thrive and was in fact encouraged by those at the highest levels.

May 19, 2004

Two weeks of craziness

Yesterday, the stuff in the greenhouse started going out the door in massive amounts. The nice weather contributed, plus the feeling amongst gardeners that we have had our last frost. I hope they are right.

Once it breaks loose--and it should be soon--we will have two weeks of mayhem. By about June 5, the greenhouses, which are still nearly full, will be nearly empty. And we will know what kind of year we have had. By June 5, we will have about 85% of our annual business completed.

A weblog visitor

Last week, Sherman Sollie from New Brighton stopped by the nursery. Sherman was raised in the neighborhood, just down the road on the farm surrounding St. John's church. His father was Gjellmer Sollie, who I knew when he was in the nursing home. My father worked for Gjellmer when he was in his teens.

Much to my surprise, Sherman said he is a regular visitor to this weblog! Always great to meet somebody who reads this weblog, but it is an additional bonus when that somebody is from right around here.

Kind of humorous--Sherman is retired, but I had to ask him "so, who's boy are you?" in order to place him. That means I've been around here a long time!

Good to meet you, Sherman!


Mid-day Monday, a black bear trundled across the nursery yard. It was the first bear sighting on the nursery that we remember. The bear went out into the field where it shocked two high school boys who were planting trees. The one didn't say a word, just grabbed the head of the other and twisted it towards the bear, which was standing about 150 feet away.

Last night, the bear showed up in my yard, three miles to the west. I have never seen a bear around here, so that was pretty exciting. I jumped in my pickup, and the bear took off across the field. They are fast!

Also, a report of a bear with cubs over by Union Lake. So, this is now bear country. We live in Bear Park Township, but always wondered why they came up with that name. Now, the name is appropriate again.

May 17, 2004

Syttende Mai

Traveled to the Concordia Language village north of Bemidji tonight to speak to the annual banquet of the Bemidji Sons of Norway. They sold 110 tickets. It was a lively bunch.

The menu consisted of sirloin steak with red new potatoes and a delicious cabbage dish--cabbage fried with bacon. That was the highlight.

For dessert, rommegrot. Rommegrot is a cream, flour and butter delicacy. At least it is a delicacy now--my father remembers eating it as a child because it was cheap.

THE SCENERY north of Bemidji is stunning. Lakes, birch, pine, spruce, tamarack, hills and streams. A different world from functional farm country.

I played some piano, sang a few numbers, and then read some pieces from my books. It went fairly well, although every new situation is different. Sometimes it flows, sometimes it doesn't. Tonight felt like a little struggle. I wished I would have lined things up a little better. But the crowd was superbly friendly. That always helps.

Listened to public radio on the way home--some programming about the Brown vs Board of Education decision of 1954 in which Thurgood Marshall, then a lawyer for the NAACP, argued for desegregation in front of the Supreme Court. It was shocking to hear some of the declarations made by southern governors as they resisted federally imposed integration. Blood-boiling stuff. I'll never understand the visceral emotions which drive racists.

May 16, 2004

Visit from Aunt Olla

When I returned to the nursery from a speaking engagement in Thief River Falls Friday, I was surprised to see Aunt Olla having coffee in the schoolhouse. She had come up from Twin Valley with her reflexologist, Linda.

Life has been busy for Olla. Busy for a 92-year-old, anyway! A couple birthday parties, which are fun, but of course they wear Olla out completely.

Then the minister called and said she was coming over to give communion. Olla had agreed to host communion in her apartment, but only with two weeks notice so she could clean. Of course the minister said she was coming tomorrow.

Well, that went okay. The house was clean. The minister is always a lot of fun, so Olla had a good time. But again, having company always wears one out.

Then, Olla's schoolkids called. For those unfamiliar with Olla's story, she once taught school at District 29 down by Ulen. This was 70 years ago. However, she and the kids got along so well that they have been getting together regularly for the past 70 years. Olla's "schoolkids" are now in their eighties.

The occasion? Turns out that the Flom cafe is closing June 1. The Flom cafe is one of Olla's favorite haunts, so her schoolkids thought they had better take her there before it closed for good.

Of course that meant that they would come over to Olla's afterwards for dessert. Olla told them she wasn't up to making anything, they would have to bring it all. They did. They took over Olla's kitchen and made egg salad sandwiches and other delicacies. One woman brought an angelfood cake. A good time was had by all.

On Friday, Olla got the idea that I might like to partake of the leftovers from the party with her schoolkids, and boy was she right. So, she had Linda make up some sandwiches with the egg salad, and they brought them up to the nursery, along with two pieces of angelfood cake.

There were six egg salad sandwiches. So hungry was I for some good Lutheran food that I downed them all before Olla left. The first one I ate in the presence of Olla, but I snuck down the other five in the back room. I think she thought they would last longer than that.