Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

July 16, 2004


A reader wrote to ask why I don't support Ralph Nader if I don't like the other two. Well, he has the advantage of not being in cahoots with big money lobbies, but I am not enthused.
I find that what I hope for in a president is a character--somebody who will be a good leader in whatever direction. Reagan was that. FDR was that. Teddy Roosevelt was that. Lincoln was that.
The problem is: In order for a leader to be regarded as great, he must do great things in the face of great problems. FDR had the Great Depression and World War II. Churchill rallied England when she was almost helpless against Hitler. Lincoln had the most impossible task of them all--attempting to win the Civil War.
In fact, Lincoln's achievement makes all others pale in comparison, I think. Roosevelt had a willing populace, at least after Pearl Harbor. Lincoln, on the other hand, was constantly sniped at by his own side. There were even threats of coups d'etat. Enemy cannon were within sight of the White House.
We are fortunate enough right now not to be faced with great problems. I am sorry, modern terrorism doesn't quite cut it--we lost 3,000 people at the World Trade Center, yes, but during the Civil War there were battles which killed over 20,000. We lost 370,000 in World War II, and about 50 million died world-wide. That's a major crisis.
Even if terrorists were to explode a weapon of mass destruction, it would be a one-time deal. It would not end in a final victory. They would not occupy us. As far as I am concerned, they got very lucky with 9/11, and it is unlikely that they will repeat their performance, especially with people more on edge and more vigilant.
So, we are not living in times which will bring greatness out of a president, whoever it might be. We don't require a New Deal. We don't need to mobilize our entire economy for war.
Even so, I still look for a president who might be a great leader if such a situation arose. Nader is not that man, needless to say, but neither are Bush or Kerry. Nobody on the scene has the political sophistication and idealistic vision of either Roosevelt; nobody has the peculiar charm and confidence of Reagan; and of course, there are no Lincolns.
But we must remember: Lincoln was seen as sort of an oaf all through his presidency. His brilliance wasn't understood until he was shot. And until he became president, he hadn't achieved anything which would have given a clue that he would be our greatest president.
So, there could be a Lincoln in our midst. Let's just hope we don't need him.

An hour in the dentist's chair

I don't care how old I get, I still dread going to the dentist. Today I had to have three fillings on the roots of my front teeth, so at least I didn't have to hold my mouth wide open. But it did take three sets of novacaine shots before things calmed down.
So, it takes a while for the numbness to wear off. My usual solution is to take a nap. A person is tired anyway after sitting tense in the dentist's chair for an hour. Today's post-dental nap lasted for four hours, a little more than usual. I think the novacaine went to my brain.
Got up and turned on the Twins, only to find out that they are behind the Royals, the last-place Royals, by a score of 11-1. Uff da. As bad as a filling. I sense the Twins are in a bit of a swoon. It might last a while, and it probably won't be pretty.
One of those still evenings outside--cloudy, a little dark to the west, feels like more rain, probably heavy. We are in a bit of a wet cycle here. Today, I celebrated the wetness by trying to drive out to my house site even though the new road is still a bit soft.
Well, I slid off the road, and even after I put it in four wheel drive, all I could do was slide closer to the water which has gathered in the new ditch. I gave up. It was almost difficult to walk out of there. Ken came and pulled me out with the tractor. I no longer feel humiliated by such misadventures--its my tractor and my road and my pickup, after all! Even so, some spectators got a good laugh out of it.

July 15, 2004

Sour on politics

Well, who isn't. But I just wish these people would have a little more sense of humor and conduct themselves with a little dignity. I mean, you can run a hard campaign without responding to every little move your opponent makes and attempting to cast it in a negative light.

Kerry was asked what he thought about the possibility that Bush would drop Cheney from the ticket. Instead of saying, "that's their business," or "it doesn't make any difference to me," Kerry said something to the effect that replacing Cheney would just be more evidence that Bush is not a man of his word and can't be trusted.

Oh my. Ease up, why don't you.

For the Republicans part, they tore into John Edwards as soon as Kerry announced him as his running mate. They released a long list of Edwards' sins--pages and pages worth of obviously trumped up charges that Edwards is "against families," "dangerously liberal," and all that BS.

Kerry is seriously defective--I am suspicious that his leadership style would be more Carter than Clinton. Clinton isn't my favorite, but he at least displayed some political skill. Kerry, however, seems out of touch. He would probably bore us to death.

Who would I like to see as president if I could chose?

I would love to have seen Jesse Ventura (when at his best) run for president; I am not so sure I would have enjoyed how he behaved once he got in. But oh man, put him on stage in a debate with Bush and Kerry--and he would have won. The debates, anyway. What a circus that would have been. As he crept up in the polls after the debates, the political establishment would have gone into an utter panic. I would have paid to watch that.

Mario Cuomo is a liberal with leadership ability. They are few and far between. He should have run--although by the end of his governorship in New York he was acting a little funny, staying in the mansion for weeks on end. He's a bit of a monk. But he has a very good mind and was a great speaker.

I like John McCain somewhat. He's more straightforward than Bush. He doesn't go for this "defense of marriage" crap. He's like Barry Goldwater--conservative in the old sense--small government, tight spending, strong defense--none of this moral posturing. He can't do much moral posturing about private affairs after the way he treated his first wife. (Not nice.)

I can't think of anybody else. Perhaps Alan Simpson of Wyoming, a former senator, would be a good Republican candidate. Bill Richardson, New Mexico's governor would be a solid liberal choice. They both are honest, plain-spoken, practical, no BS guys.

Otherwise, I am at a loss.

Gathering of Lutheran Circles

This afternoon, I entertained at a gathering of Lutheran church circles at Zion Lutheran in Twin Valley. I rarely bother to find out the why of these meetings before I show up; I am content to know the when and where. I think this one had something to do with honoring older members of circles.

The lady who began the meeting said that they used to sort of allow ladies to contribute only as they saw fit after they turned 70 years old. However, since most members are now over 70 years old, that retirement provision isn't mentioned very often--in fact, the ladies had better keep making lunches for funerals after 70 or there won't be any lunch. She didn't say that out loud, but that was the implication.

Attendance was good. They expected 80 ladies and they had over 120, plus three men who came. That was nice. I was worried that the men were drawn by false expectations--the posters for the event said that brother Joe and I were going to sing. Since Joe took off on a little trip, however, it was just me, and I didn't do much singing, and I played a lot of classical stuff.

Since it was a gathering of Lutherans, I gave a little talk on J. S. Bach (my favorite Lutheran) and other composers and played snippets of their music. The last piece was a Rachmaninoff that requires a lot of energy, and by the end I was drenched with perspiration. Exhausting.

AUNT OLLA knew I was coming to Twin Valley, so she called to say we should go out for lunch first. She's had a rough two weeks--very, very busy. She's never been so busy, she said, and she's about to turn 93. It just doesn't quit. They had a big fan on sale up at the hardware store, according to the flier, and she wanted that--so I went up to get it and brought it back. It is big enough to dislodge every loose paper in Olla's apartment. It will have to do the trick in this hot weather, since Olla decided not to put the air conditioner in the window--it blocks the view. Plus, some health news letter said fans are more healthy for you.

We had a good hot beef sandwich up at the new Diner in Twin Valley. All of the tables were full, and the food was delicious.


The evening of a perfect day yesterday was spent out at the lake BBQing with friends. These are friends from high school. Many of us are turning forty this summer, thus the excuse for a BBQ. Plus the fact that all the kids are roughly the same age, so it was a good time for them to get together and splash in the water and jump on the trampoline.

Interesting: I remain connected to many high school friends, but I barely know most of my college friends any more. Don't even know where they live. I think that is the reverse of most people.

Because I have no kids of my own, I enjoy getting into mischief with the kids without the responsibility of having to undo the damage to their moral development. We were having a perfectly fun time with our puking contest--seeing how much food we could each puke up--(imaginary, of course) until the mothers thought it was pushing the bounds of niceness out a bit far and put a stop to it. Sheeeeesh.

One of the four year olds was leaving with her Dad, and we were saying, "See you next time," etc., but no, she couldn't see us again because she was going to CAMP. Well what about after camp? Well, then she was going to go to KINDERGARTEN. So that was out. Well, what about after kindergarten? In exasperation, she finally said, "I'll have to look at my calendar."

Signs of age: When I called to ask what I should bring, the consensus amongst those already at the party was: pickled herring.

July 14, 2004


After the fair, things calm down considerably at the nursery. Beautiful summer weather has arrived at the same time. Now, we are mainly fighting the weeds, mowing, cultivating, and dressing up the gardens for the August traffic.

Brother Joe is off in Vancouver for 10 days, Mom and Dad are leaving for the Cities for a family gathering on Mom's side, and people are taking more days off. This is the time for it. We're trying to some of the heavy work done before the high school boys start football practice in early August. They can do an awful lot in a little while.

JUST GOT A PHONE call while writing this, the sort of one that can ruin your day if you let it. Some trees didn't grow for somebody. Well, that happens, and I took full responsibility and promised to replace them, but that wasn't enough for this guy who had to go on and disparage the quality of the trees and how he did everything right and its really disheartening to go through all that work, and he just doesn't know if this is worth it, and for crying out loud, you want trees to grow when you plant them, and on and on and on. Man, I had to fight to keep my cool. Who knows why they didn't grow. It could have been anything. Could have been our fault, could have been his. That's why we replace without question. Now the leaves are stripped on them, what could have done that? Deer, I said. No, they've never eaten my trees before. So apparently it was something we did here that caused the leaves to be stripped--it sure wasn't the deer.

Ah, the public. Can't live with em, can't live without em.

July 12, 2004

Cat moves to larger prey

I have been remiss in reporting on cat activities. The small rodent count is in the upper 20s now. However, tonight the cat came home with larger prey: a weasel. I have never seen one before--it was a chestnut brown with a white belly and a black tip on the tail. Very pretty. Sad to see it dead.

Yesterday, I happened to see cat scramble up a tree and grab a chipmunk. (Do chipmunks climb trees?) At least it looked like a chipmunk. The thing was limp in a second, and cat triumphantly trotted with its mouthful to the spot by the garage where it gloats over fallen prey.

Actually, I think cat mourns the death of its prey. It paws at them and meows forlornly, as if it is infuriated with the dead animal for dying on it and depriving it of a plaything. Sort of reminiscent of Josef Stalin bitterly denouncing his friends for leaving him--he had nobody to sing the old Georgian songs with anymore, he told somebody near the end of his life. Well, he had killed them all.


The blueprints for the house arrived the other day. I distributed them to the carpenters, etc., today. I have taken the plunge. This thing is going to be built. Scary thought!

The recent rains have prevented any progress on the road, although it is mostly built. I have a superhighway running from the nursery to my house site. I don't think I will regret having a good road, but wow--it is a shock to see the change in the soybean field.

The piece of land the road runs through is laden with memories. Although in recent years, I have rented it out, it used to be a strawberry patch--way before my time. Then it was a place where we grew spruce. Spruce growing is a 10-year endeavor, so for most of my childhood, I recall going out there with the crew to watch them ball-and-burlap spruce trees. Of course now, that process is done with tree spades.

The road curves through a low spot where a field road ran before. I recall driving my little motorcycle through that spot near sun-down on summer evenings. There would often be a little fog there, and it felt much cooler than the rest of the air. Mosquitoes pelted off my face.

I am building the house next to a wetland. That is a fancy term for swamp. People think its crazy, I suppose, although I know in the cities every little pothole is coveted. Better than looking at a row of houses.

Well, on this wetland there is a blue heron as well as a family of swans my sister discovered this past weekend. I have yet to see them airborne, but you take out the binoculars and there they are with their four young signets, floating around next to an old beaver house where they must have nested. Man, I hope they keep coming back year after year!

The swamp was once drained by a ditch. However, in recent years that ditch was dammed by beaver, so it has filled to its former level, drowning many young trees which had grown around the edges in the thirty years previous. I will have to cut them down after freeze-up. That will make the wetland much more picturesque, and it will provide firewood for quite a while.

Lots of work ahead. Fun work, too. One starts to relish manual labor after dealing with the public on a regular basis.

Another Lutheran funeral

A funeral this morning for Lloyd, 90 years old, at Faaberg Lutheran in Rindal. I only met Lloyd after he moved into the nursing home in Fertile. When I went to play there, he was always so responsive. He even hassled the activities people to get me to come more often, which they did.

So, his family asked me to play some hymns for his funeral, as well as to sing "Softly and Tenderly, Jesus is Calling," one of my favorite hymns.

Again, it never ceases to amaze me how funerals for the very elderly draw a crowd in the small town. Must have been over eighty people at 10:30 on a Monday morning.

Barb, a woman who has worked for the nursery in the past, showed up at the funeral, so I asked what her connection to Lloyd was. "Oh, he's my Dad!" she said. Uff da. I hadn't known that. Goes to show you how you can know people in the small town without knowing they are related to each other--until one of them dies.

Neighbor Paul and I walked around some of the gravestones and reminisced about the people buried at Faaberg. My third grade teacher, Corrine Hermanson, is there. It is to the point now where I know most of the people buried there, and that cemetery has been going for 100 years.

Paul works at the nursing home, and I ate lunch in the basement with he and Patti, the social worker at the home. Paul calls her his "funeral wife" because they end up going to many funerals together of residents at the home.

But they talked about the declining numbers at all nursing homes in the area. Most are running well below capacity and are having to cut back. This is due to assisted living and other alternatives which are cheaper than full fledged nursing home care. It is forcing nursing homes to be more innovative and to cut back rather harshly on staff.

One result of the state budget crisis is that nursing homes are forced to pay the state a surcharge per resident. It amounts to many thousands per month. This, I suppose, is a way of subsidizing the state without raising taxes. Of course, we pay anyway, but the politicians can say they didn't raise taxes. These no-new-taxes pledges are a bunch of hooey. They just add fees, which usually aren't as fair.

FAABERG LUTHERAN is really my favorite church. It is snuggled in the Sand Hill river valley in the hamlet of Rindal, population around 10. It is a large church, for a country church, with a beautiful 100-year-old pipe organ which sounds fairly good.

Dorthy plays the organ, and does a good job. It is funny--I didn't even call Dorthy ahead--I knew that she would be able to play for me while I sang. She said there are funerals there about every two weeks.

I hope Faaberg never closes. Most of all, I hope they never tear down that building or allow it to go into disrepair. That is easier said than done, of course, it is a big place. But I think I would go around raising funds and throw in some myself before I would sit back and let that beautiful church fall to pieces.

Twins limp into the break

The Twins lost 3 of 4 to the Detroit Tigers this weekend. Last year, the Tigers set a record for losses. This year they are much improved, but still...the Twins should beat them up.

But the Twins have stopped hitting. Again. They have the mighty Justin Morneau pounding home runs in the minors, but they just won't bring him up because it means either trading or sitting down Doug Mientkewitz, the slick fielding first baseman who isn't hitting worth squat.

The Twins have some decisions to make--put up with established major league veterans who are performing below their past levels (Jacque Jones, Doug Mientkewitz, Cory Koskie) or bring up some of the young guys who are tearing the cover off the ball in Rochester. I would go with the young guys. They couldn't do any worse.

So, have you had a good fair?

That's the question of the day. Last night was the last night of the Polk County fair. I manned the nursery booth for the last few hours. I enjoyed visiting with people, including some of you who visit this site.

The locals always are concerned about whether we are having a good fair--meaning, I suppose, are we selling lots of stuff. Well, we never sell that much at the fair. If you added up the income, it would barely pay for the expense of hauling it all in. That's not the point, though. It is good PR, and we kind of enjoy it.

At least some of us enjoy it. Dot, our gift shop manager, always enjoys turning the log cabin into a little fantasy land. This year, she turned it into a tropical paradise with a grass hut and a sandy beach.

My mother, meanwhile, enjoys decorating outside with the remaining planters from our busy season. She has energy for these projects which always amazes me. By this time of year, I am sort of tired of it all and would just as soon shut the nursery down and go see a few Twins games.

But decorating at the fair is a tradition which goes back about 60 years. Grandpa used to haul in truckload after truckload of trees, shrubs and flowers. We have trimmed it down a bit, but it is still quite a production.

Now the fair is over, and the guys will haul all the stuff home. With the fair over, the selling season is pretty much finished, and we focus on next year at the nursery.

July 11, 2004

Willmar Stevne

I am getting this lingo down: A "stevne" is a gathering of Norwegians. A "lag" is a group of Norwegians from a particular area of Norway. The stevne at Willmar this past weekend included at least seven lags.

What do they do at a stevne? The main thrust seems to be geneaology. There are experts on the field who help people trace their family tree. Other classes and seminars focus on Norwegian culture.

Then there is entertainment. That is where I come in. I have spoken to several of these gatherings over the past year, and I usually do the evening program. I read some old columns, sing some songs, and do a monologue type speech.

I have learned a lot in the process. Timing is important. You have to allow people a while to catch on to some of the more subtle lines. You can't be scared to let the audience be silent for a while as the tension builds up for the punch line. I tend to rush my way to the next potential laugh, and slowing down has helped things out a lot.

Also, I have started to cross out jokes, songs, or anecdotes which aren't audience-pleasers however much they might please me.

My friend Mark teaches speech and communications at Rutgers, and he is the one who pointed out to me the crucial need for any speech to present a problem and then solve that problem. Even if you are just trying to be funny, you must have some problem that you are working to solve throughout the speech or it will lack direction and purpose. I have found that out the hard way by giving a speech which merely consisted of a string of anecdotes, funny enough on their own, but not well tied together. The audience laughed--but half-heartedly because they were left wondering: Why is he bringing this up? You must have a pretense, however flimsy, for every joke.

That problem, which creates the structure for the speech, needn't be profound or even interesting as long as the anecdotes and stories you use to illustrate your point are entertaining.

WILLMAR IS four hours away, but there were many familiar people in the audience, including several customers, as well as many people who came up to me afterwards to say they knew somebody I knew.