Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

November 26, 2005

Home of the month?

Wisconsin Log Homes has featured my house on their website this month.

Black Friday

Pictures in the newspaper this morning of people trampling each other before dawn yesterday scrambling for bargains. Festive! Oh, a lottery winner was found dead in her home after laying there for days. The story, as always, is one of people ruined by sudden, enearned wealth. The whole notion of getting something for nothing turns people ugly.

Other news: Many people falling through the ice. Believe me, I am not going out there yet, although it was on December 1 of last year that I went through with the skid steer loader. I have no desire to repeat the performance.

November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving recap

Still eating leftovers and will be for several days. Leftover ham is good stuff.

Dinner table conversation: Mom and Dad were telling about their trip last week to San Antonio. Aunt Olla remarked that she always had liked San Antonio, although her job there was a bust.

Story time. Aunt Olla and her friend Marge had decided to get out of this area. Confident that there were plenty of jobs elsewhere (it was during WW II), they headed south.

Upon arriving in San Antonio, they went to the middle of town and walked in the tallest building there. It was an insurance company. The two farm girls talked themselves into jobs selling insurance door-to-door.

Well, it was 100 degrees their first day and they were assigned to the Mexican district, so they bought sombreros and went up and down the streets knocking on doors until they had blisters on their feet. They sold one policy for $3.00.

Marge decided that was enough, but Olla was going to be persistent. She walked the streets for another whole day before quitting herself.

Then they got a job at a cafe cleaning floors. After closing, they put "In the Mood" by Glenn Miller on the jukebox, and oh how they had fun cleaning those floors.

Olla talked so much that her plate was full even after all of the rest of us were finished.

Later in the day we went to Aunt Ede's for leftovers and the same thing happened. Cousin Gary prodded Olla to tell some old stories--and her food sat while we found out about crazy Aunt Pearl who insisted that the crusty old neighbor farmer come over and wash her feet, and who sang "Softly and Tenderly Jesus is Calling" at the top of her lungs through the night--before they finally hauled her away.

Craziness on both sides--her grandfather and grandmother were first cousins, and all of their kids were either very bright, or "a little bit off." But even the ones who were a little bit off were really bright, Olla said, citing examples. Old Uncle Spen just couldn't keep his mind on what he was doing so had a hard time keeping a job, even stacking wood--and Aunt Mathilda would mop the floor by standing on a chair in the middle of the room and mopping around in circles. But they weren't stupid.

The evening ended with us rehearsing the songs for Olla's funeral. Again. I think this is the fourth time. Cousins Ryan and Gary, brother Joe and I sang as a quartet. We informed Olla that she has to live at least three more years or its going to be a complete disaster. For her part, Olla said our rendition of "Eastern Gate" gave her goosebumps.

Then, Joe took her back to the Fertile Hilton, which she still loves. Can you imagine, they make a cheese sandwich for her at ten at night, she doesn't even have to get up and go get it? Who has it better than that?

November 24, 2005


Here is our Thanksgiving gang, minus Lance who is taking the photo. Dad, Mom, Joe, Aunt Olla and I, in order. The food went down fine. Nobody died of samonilla yet. Mom brought pumpkin pie. Olla declared it the best pie she has ever had.

Over the river and through the woods

Thanksgiving morning, and it is bitterly cold. A north wind roared all night. The sun is shining through the frost around the edges of the windows.

In a couple of hours, I will figure out how to bake a ham, start the potatoes, microwave some squash, and get ready for dinner at one. I also am thawing one of the Hutterites' good smoked chickens.

So, no turkey. I got scared of all the "how-to" people warning me that if I don't cook it right, all my guests will die. Ham is already cooked. So is the smoked chicken. That seems like the safest route.

My main worry is finding the leaf for the dining room table. It isn't here. I will have to look up at the nursery in the greenhouse where I stored all the things I didn't have a place for out here at the house. I hope I didn't throw it.

The dining room table was one of those items I had hoped not to bring into the new house; I was going to get a new one, but then I saw the cost--and Uncle Rolly offered to make me one out of the wood of my choice. So, I brought in the old one, minus the leaf, on a temporary basis. Several people, even those with no decorating acumen at all, have commented that it has to go. It just doesn't fit in. But I am used to it, and it isn't falling over, so it is fine for now.

I don't own cloth napkins. They seem like more hassle than they're worth. And I forgot to buy some Thanksgiving-themed paper napkins, so the Viva paper towel roll will have to do.

With amazing lack of foresight, I ran out of milk the night before Thanksgiving. I'll have to borrow some to doll up the mashed potatoes. I would have liked to have buttermilk--now that makes for great mashed potatoes--but that would have required planning ahead.

So, it will go. Our family is almost militantly non-traditional when it comes to holidays. A few years ago, we had our Christmas meal at an Ethiopian restaurant in Minneapolis. It was the only thing open.

November 22, 2005

Thanksgiving preparation

I put a ham in the fridge to thaw. I have never baked a ham before. It can't be too difficult. I have Betty Crocker handy to help out. Aunt Olla is coming out for the dinner, and she always baked ham with red wine. Perhaps I should pick up a bottle and try it.

Friend Dale came out this morning, still wound up over the Vikings narrow last-second victory over the Packers last night. Dale cooks at a local restaurant. One the drive out, he was listening to a food show on the radio--and the resident expert was carrying on about the importance of not putting the stuffing in the turkey lest you get some disease.

Well, an older woman called in to say that was just baloney--she'd been putting stuffing in the turkey for 60 plus years and nobody had died yet. She also said that if you put the turkey in a paper grocery bag that will come out very tender. I suppose that assumes that the bag doesn't catch on fire.

Dale is always looking for tricks of the trade, and he said, "A person would be a damn fool not to listen to those old ladies" who have cooked for fifty plus years. They know every trick in the book, it is true.

I went to town. A gentleman asked me what I was doing for Thanksgiving. It is the question of the day and one which isn't always easy to answer for people if things haven't been perfect with past marriages and such, as was the case in his situation. I told him that I was making a dinner for immediate family and whoever I might pick up on the street corner. He said, jokingly, "I'll be on the corner waiting!" A long pause. "Yeah, Thanksgiving," he said. Another pause. "It sort of hits you how screwed up your life is."

This was said in good humor, but there is an element of truth to it. Holiday stress is real, particularly for people who have to decide which battling faction to be with, or who have nobody to be with, or whatever. It pulls at my heartstrings.

Picked up stamps. That is errand enough to deduct the trip. Sixteen miles at 48.5 cents per mile.

My goal with the post-mistress is to introduce an infectious song into her head every time I go to the window so she can't get it out of her head the rest of the afternoon. The most effective song is "Karma Chameleon" by Boy George. Today, I tried "Jack and Diane" by John Mellencamp. I'll have to call her sometime to see if it stuck. She appreciates my efforts so much.

Then up to eat a hot beef at the restaurant where Dale cooks. Pretty darn good. And some good conversation, a modern cafe conversation: A farmer and I discussed the merits of jacking up our anti-depressant doses for winter. Which one are you on? How does that work for you? Things that wouldn't have been discussed in the 1950s.

Back then, I suppose it was "I think I'll switch to gin. Burns cleaner."

Who knows where the next decades will take us. My mother, who keeps abreast of developments in the energy sector, told about a new technology which is using carbon dioxide from the Beulah, ND coal gasification plant to extract oil from wells in Saskachewan which were thought to be depleted.

My thought is: will hydrogen fuel cells make oil obsolete? Or are we just going to keep burning oil until we run out? Brazil is running on 60% ethanol. Despite having no oil of their own, they will soon be energy independent. It costs a lot to drive there, but there is something to be said for not needing undependable countries far away for your everyday energy needs.

One other big change we forget happened: Remember when a diagnoses of stomach ulcers was an awful fate? As late as the 1970s, they cut out parts of people's stomachs to treat ulcers. Now, you never hear of ulcers because they are so easily treated with over-the-counter medications. Polio. Small pox. Measles. Scarlet Fever. Ulcers--all problems which have been put up on the shelf of history by modern medical advances.

If we can cure all those things, perhaps we can get rid of our dependence upon oil. Or, perhaps we can create a health care system which works. You have to be an optimist--we've done some amazing things in the past.

SOMETHING NOT SO AMAZING: It isn't on the radar of the big news organizations, but more information is coming out about the CIA detention centers in Eastern Europe. Over 100 people have died during interrogations. Some CIA agents are now leaking the torture methods because they are appalled. Where did the agency learn the methods? By studying Nazi and Soviet records. So, they use a rectal thermometer to keep track of the body temperature of prisoners when they are sunk in a vat of ice water. They know just how low they can take the body temperature without killing the person, although apparently they've lost a few.

I am sickened by this. I grew up reading the Reader's Digest stories about people who survived the death camps and Soviet gulags--and now our own tax dollars are going towards such indecency, albiet on a much smaller scale. But--some of the people killed in detention in Iraq, and others who survived the torture--were later found out to be mere farmers picked up on the street. The survivors were released.

It isn't right that our country is engaged in this sort of thing.

M. Scott Peck

Perhaps some of you have read M. Scott Peck's classic The Road Less Traveled. I didn't realize until I ran across this news item that he recently died. Equally interesting is the obituary--wow! Now that is one in the British style. They don't let up on you even when you die.

November 21, 2005

Dreaming of Arizona

I want to go to Arizona so badly I can taste it. Today, I studied the AZ map on the wall of my office, thinking of places to visit. I have sort of gotten myself into a rhythm of going to AZ at least two winters out of three, and once you get those memory cues in place, they become difficult to resist.

Every year, I go through the same charade of thinking I am not going to go--no, I'll just stay home and take care of what little business there is to take care of in January. Stay warm. Read. Tend to the stove. Cut wood.

Then I start thinking of the desert, the warm sun on my face, the cool but utterly bearable evenings, the sunsets, the Mexican food--and usually I cave in.

The drive down isn't all that bad, if it doesn't storm. Usually, some sort of storm follows me all the way south the Albuquerque, NM. The drive home is a bummer. I always get a little down when having to leave Tucson.

Last year, I flew out to Tucson with Lance for one week. That seemed like cheating. Boom, you were there. However, with all of these frequent flier specials, it is much cheaper to fly and rent a car than it is to drive yourself, spend the money on gas and hotels on the way down, and get there with a bad case of eyestrain.

No wonder the airlines are going broke. I haven't paid for a ticket in several years--I just use flier miles which build up on the nursery credit card. Delta just announced it is losing millions per day. How does that continue indefinitely?

Hymn sing

Mom and Dad hosted a few people Saturday night for an old-time hymn sing. It was a good time. Mom played the piano, people threw out hymn numbers, and we sang with the parts pretty well covered.

Last fall, I spoke to a group at the Ada Methodist Church. In their lobby was a box of Worship and Service hymnals, which for some people is "the old red hymnal" they grew up with. Well, the church had gotten new hymnals and was trying to find a place for the old ones. I took a few and later a member of the church dropped of the rest of them--a real treasure, if you ask me.

So, we used the old red hymnals for the hymn sing. It was surprising to hear which ones were peoples' favorites. I heard some for the first time, and heard some of the old favorites as well.

One day, I think I will have such a hymn sing here at the house. The acoustics are pretty good, and it would be fun to hear some singers take advantage of the good sound.

Singing together is a wonderful activity, and it isn't done enough. About fifteen years ago, brother Joe, cousin Ryan and friend Cisco formed a quartet. We sang around the area for a couple of summers before jobs took Cisco and Ryan too far away to get together much. But singing in that quartet was a fun experience, a great way to get together and do something productive.

The old hymns aren't sung enough--young people are losing familiarity with the great tunes. The modern praise choruses aren't worth much, musically, and they make me uncomfortable because people tend to get worked up in an emotional froth while singing them--perhaps as a way to make the insipid, unison songs more interesting. I don't like to be around when that happens.

I much prefer the old hymns sung in a dignified manner.

November 20, 2005

Photo safari

It is sort of becoming a Sunday evening tradition: Get out of the house and go take pictures, no matter how dull and dreary it seems outside. Today, Lance and I drove around the back roads and ended up in Rindal--same place I ended up a couple of weeks ago on a sunny fall morning.

Above is a view of the row of pine which borders the Faaberg cemetery.

Here is a stone commemorating an eight-month-old baby who died in 1925.

A dirty snowdrift curls around a stone from the same era.

Here is the old octagonal schoolhouse which sits on the former Norman and Mabel Christianson farm. I know of at least three parties who have purchased the schoolhouse with the intention of moving and renovating it, only to have to give up on the idea for one reason or another. So, there it sits.

Laptops in the classroom

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about the frustrations of trying to teach in a classroom where students have laptop computers hooked up to the web. This morning, an article in Slate magazine by a college students tackles the issue from another angle: If professors have a problem with students distracted by what is on their computer screens, they should spice up their lectures a bit. The student wrote the article during a lecture, incidentally.