Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

December 03, 2004

Crazy Swamp Castle ideas

As we proceed on the house, I get more ideas, many of them nuts. For instance, I have seen those nice tile waterfalls that you can buy so you have a little water trickling in the background. The water dribbles over three tiles.

I got to thinking, why not cover an entire wall with layered tiles and run water down them into a trough?

I just got a light box to help me deal with seasonal lethargy (read: depression), and it works so darn well that I was thinking of building a little light closet--where I could sit on a stool and read and be surrounded by sun lamps, built in ones with no cords.

BY THE WAY, the light box works wonders. It is overpriced to the extent that I think I might build one myself, but if I sit next to it one hour in the morning, I have energy enough to last me throughout the day. If I sit in front of it in the evening, however, I get so wound up that I don't get to sleep. So you have to watch it.

Canadian Brass

Tomorrow is the annual Bergeson Nursery Christmas party. I didn't know what to do for the party this year. We had so much fun last year when we rented a bus and went to Sander's restaurant in Grand Forks that I didn't know what to do for a follow-up.

Well, there came a pamphlet in the mail advertising a Canadian Brass concert in Bemidji. I bounced the idea off bookkeeper Cindy and my parents, and they thought that would be fun, so we went ahead with it.

Last year, of the employees and their spouses, we had a total of 25 come to the party. I think a couple of them regretted missing it afterwards, as we did have such an extraordinary good time.

This year, fully 35 people are coming to the party! We will go eat at Moran's following the concert. I didn't rent a bus, but should have. Car-pooling that many people is a bit of a trick.

Now, I hope the Canadian Brass comes through. Judging from Cousin Anne's weblog, that shouldn't be a problem. The Brass happened to come through Idaho last week, and Anne gives a good review of the concert. I have my hopes up that the four high school boys who work for me and are coming to the party won't be bored by the classical music.

Happy Birthday, Elaine!

Elaine, one of the early and most faithful readers of this weblog, is turning 75 tomorrow, December 4. Happy Birthday, Elaine!

Now, I would tell you Elaine's last name, but I have hesitated to use last names on this weblog. I wonder why. I guess I am sort of scared that since this weblog is available to the whole world (whether or not they avail themselves of it) that some calamity could come down upon the head of somebody I mention here in too much detail.

I guess it is unlikely that Osama is surfing the web searching for an opportunity to strike the Lutherans of the Upper Midwest.

Not to give away any clues, but Elaine, amongst many other accomplishments, grows beautiful roses and raised a castor bean a couple of years ago which reached almost fifteen feet in height.

Civil War and the Reformation

I am not implying they are connected in any significant way, except for that I taught about them both today. It is a lot more fun teaching about something I have actually learned before. It has been twenty years since I took Church History from Mr. Charles Herman at Northwestern College in Roseville, but it comes back.

There are so many fascinating human stories in the Civil War, stories which get buried by the textbooks as they race from one event to another, alotting a paragraph for each.

As the Civil War approached its end, the Confederate vice-president Thaddeus Stephens came through the lines to Grant wanting to talk peace. Grant said it was none of his business to talk peace and telegraphed Lincoln, who said he would come right down. Grant hosted Stephens with dignity in the mean-time, but noticed that his guest wore a coat which was so thick and so huge and so long to the ground that it made the tiny Stephens look about twice as big as he was.

After Lincoln visited with Stephens and informed him that there would be no peace with slavery, Stephens left. Lincoln pulled Grant aside and asked, "Did you notice that coat Stephens was wearing?"

Grant said he had indeed noticed. Lincoln continued, "Have you ever in your life seen so much husk with so little corn?"

Grant thought the story funny and told friend. After the war, the story reached Stephens himself, who laughed uproariously.

IT WAS A FUN day of teaching today, probably because I was decently prepared for all three classes before the day started, allowing me to embellish my lectures just before class by going on the internet for juicy stories about the historical figures concerned.

December 02, 2004

Swamp Castle update

The snow hasn't stopped progress on the house. The prow is taking shape, and now the Kronsch boys are shingling.

December 01, 2004

Visit with Aunt Olla

Yesterday I ran to Fargo to do some house errands and decided to call Aunt Olla to see if she wanted to go out for lunch. That was fine. We went uptown to the Classic Diner in Twin Valley, a completely pleasant place.

Olla has been having problems, which started, she said, when she had a nightmare a couple of months ago and fell out off bed, hitting her head on the bedstand. The fall gave her two black eyes. Since then, her brain hasn't been right, she said, although she sounded plenty good when we were having lunch.

Anybody who asked Olla what was wrong with her eyes was told she got into a fight. It is a tribute to Olla's spunkiness at 93 years of age that some people believed her.

We talked a bit about family history. Olla's father, my great-grandfather, died the day the family moved up to Twin Valley. That I knew. But when the doctors told him he didn't have long to live, his first comment was, "poor Olla."

"He knew I would be without allies!" Olla said. Only four years old at the time, Olla already had a reputation for being impossible. She was a free spirit and always did her own thing. Her father was her same type--utterly impractical, not real good with money matters, head in the clouds, and he sensed that Olla would be in for a rough time in the family after he was gone.

Well, I don't think Olla had the rough time--it was the rest of them who had trouble putting up with Olla. Olla herself was oblivious, traveling on whims, going to school, moving when it suited her, ending up on the West Coast in the 1940s.

When Olla was barely one year old, in 1913, William Jennings Bryan came through Canby, MN, where the Bergeson clan was living at the time. Great-grandpa bundled up the family and took them all--including Olla, because he wanted her to be able to say she had seen the "Silver Tongued Orator."

Olla talked so much that she didn't get much of the chicken dinner down. But we had a good time.

WENT ON TO FARGO where I bought some supplies for the carpenters and found exactly the slate tile I was looking for--on sale at Home Depot. What good fortune. I bought three pallets worth, which I hope is enough. I want natural feeling stone under my feet in the kitchen/dining area. This stuff is rough, like real stone, not like polished fake tile. It has defects and rough spots and colors which range from slate orange to slate green to slate blue to copper.

Also found a decent furniture outlet where the prices were the best I have seen, as was the selection. That is comforting, as I was getting pretty disillusioned with the junk I had been seeing at the big-name places around here. Just plain ugly, flowery stuff--nothing dignified.

TODAY, I had a great day of teaching. The students were all bright and cheery, smiling the whole time. I was pleasantly surprised, and probably got quite inspired.

At the end of the second class period, one of the students approached me and said, "You might want to throw those pants your wearing when you get home. Sure enough, there was a full four-inch gash in my seat of my pants. Where it happened, I don't know. But I do know why the students were all so peppy in American history this morning. For the last class, I wore my jacket tied around my waste.

Well, that last class was peppy, too, as they enjoyed seeing me teach in my interesting condition. They were involved and asked many questions. I might save those pants for sometime in the middle of my next semester of teaching.

November 30, 2004

Lincoln and Grant

In preparation for lectures on the Civil War, I have been reading Carl Sandburg's Lincoln again. What a book. Rich in anecdote but sweeping in perspective and scope, as well as poetic in its expression, I do not see how anybody could improve on this classic.

Last night, I read the chapter where Lincoln finally hands Grant the reigns for the whole army. Grant arrives in Washington from the western theater in his rumpled and stained private's uniform, only to be cheered and ballyhooed at every turn. Grant said it was "the warmest campaign of the war" for him. In that old use of the term "warm," Grant meant it was like enduring heavy gunfire.

After two years of trying to find a general who would move, Lincoln knew he had one in Grant. But they never met until 1863, when Lincoln put him in charge. Lincoln had sent emmisaries out to meet with Grant--supposedly about strategy, etc., but what Lincoln really wanted to find out was if Grant drank while in command, and the answer was no.

Lincoln didn't appoint Grant until he could confirm that Grant had no intention of running for president in 1864. There would be no use giving a grand appointment to a potential political opponent. That confirmation came from one of Lincoln's scouts, who received written confirmation from Grant (without asking) that he had no intention of running for president.

A quote circulated in the newspapers of the day from Grant's wife: "I would expect that Mr. Grant will succeed, for he is a very obstinate man." It was odd, even in that formal time, for a woman to call her husband "Mr."

Lincoln picked up on this and was forever calling Grant, "Mr. Grant, as Mrs. Grant calls him."

There existed between Lincoln and Grant a firm understanding which was based upon the faith of each that the other was competent. This faith was lacking between Lincoln and his previous generals, many of whom had a contempt for Lincoln's abilities.

Lincoln told Grant not to bother telling him his battle plans. After two years of nagging generals to move, he knew he could let Grant be. "When is the army going to move?" reporters would ask Lincoln. "Ask Mr. Grant," Lincoln would reply. "He won't tell us," said the reporters. "He won't tell me either," Lincoln would respond.

WHENEVER I get caught up in the study the Civil War, I wonder why we history people have such a fascination with war. War dominates the history texts. And I do know that my lectures perk up quite a bit when we get to actual battles.

Perhaps what I find so fascinating about the Civil War, at least, is how relentlessly it exposed the strengths and flaws of the great and powerful. In the bubbling cauldron of war, humble men with great ability rose to the top more quickly and more inevitably than they were likely to at any other time. In the middle of a century's worth of mediocre presidents, there stands Lincoln, there when we needed him.

It is easy to adopt such a dispassionate, almost cold curiosity in the Civil War when it is so far away in time that the sheer tragedy of the event has faded.

November 29, 2004

Semester winds down

As we enter the final two weeks of classes at UMC, some of the students are catching on that they aren't doing so well. Some are wondering what they can do for extra credit. It is too late for that, of course. I do tell them that if they get their act together on the last test, I will give it greater weight. I have offered this in the past and don't recall anybody improving enough to have it matter.

What a battle for kids that age--17, 18, 19. They're on their own for the first time. They were forced to attend school in high school. Now, when it is optional, they just can't make it to class. Some can drag themselves to class but can't seem to do any reading before hand. It is just beyond them.

Of course, there are good students. I feel like telling them that if they get an A that, more than anything, it stands for "adult." All an A in these history courses really means is that a person was adult enough to show up three times per week and do a little reading in between.

Attendance at class seems to be about the last priority. Games, hunting, car trouble, kid trouble, boyfriend trouble, stalker trouble, photo shoots, club meetings, play practice--they all come first.

I don't mind this--if they could get good grades anyway. But they don't. It is sad for them. However, in any open enrollment school, I suppose it should be expected that about one third of the students just shouldn't be there.

MY RECENT column on the politics after the election--about the angry urban liberals blaming the country folk for the election of Bush--has gotten a lot of response. I received several long emails from people who basically said, "yes, but those people are ignorant." As one said, "willfully ignorant." They need to be educated.

Well, I think the notion of a cabal of rural idiots conspiring to elect Bush is bosh. Furthermore, I think if the Democrats would run a decent campaign with an authentic candidate, they could get back into power in a hurry.

Others said, oh yeah, you tell 'em, you should send your column to Rush Limbaugh, I'd bet he'd love that one!

Ooops. So now I am pleasing thatcrowd. Uff da.

Another chided me for being so negative and cynical and said that I shouldn't be so critical of Christmas.

Well, I suppose. Maybe the winter is making me a grump. But I am not going to back down on the Christmas thing one bit. It has gone insane. Me standing out here in the wilderness yelling into the wind won't ruin anybody's shopping expedition. In fact, I view it as my obligation to holler at the top of my lungs, "This is NUTS!!"

As usual, this crankiness offends a select few in the 35-50-year-old female demographic. There's a lot of people in that group who take things like Christmas shopping and homes-at-the-lake quite seriously, and they don't like anybody telling them that they aren't doing the work of the Lord by emulating Martha Stewart at every opportunity.