Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

March 11, 2006

Quick storm



I was due in Halstad this morning to do some music for their electric co-op's annual meeting. Once I got out on the road, however, I found things challenging. A little ways after I took this picture, the winds picked up and the tracks disappeared and I had no option but to turn back and follow my tracks home.

Once home, I called the school where the meeting was held. They were holding the meeting, but only 26 people showed; over 300 were expected.

With that gig off my docket, I fell asleep--and awoke to some sunshine. All the snow stuck in place, so none is drifting around. You wouldn't know we had a blizzard this morning.

Ah, March.


March 10, 2006

Tax day



Tax day, for Aunt Olla, at least. Time to bring the shoebox up to the accountant. You'd think taxes for a 94-year-old on Social Security and a teacher's pension would be simple, but it really isn't. There are lots of documents to put together, and she'll probably end up paying in despite the fact that all her income is going to the Hilton.

Whatever, I guess. Anyway, when I arrived at the Fertile Hilton this morning to pick up Olla, she was doing her hair up all spiffy. We mailed a package first and then went into the accountant's office, where I took this picture of their beautiful geranium. I can never resist it. We have 10,000 geraniums in the greenhouse as of yesterday, but no blooms for another month. So, here's a bloom.

Following the tax meeting, we went up town to the drugstore for some cosmetics that are completely beyond me--something to do with eyelash curling--and then over to the restaurant for coffee and a donut. The wind was brisk, but Olla enjoyed the fresh air and she enjoys talking with everybody on the street she can.

Then back to the Hilton where Aunt Ede was waiting to balance Olla's checkbook, a task which if left to me would be left undone since I can't even balance my own and really don't see the reason unless the money runs out.

So, it was a good outing. Olla is very busy with her doings on the program committee. She thinks she has found some musical performers for the Syttende Mai celebration, as well as some mementos of Norway for a display. My role remains ambiguous. Right now there was something said about emceeing. May 17, however, is one of the busiest days of the year at the nursery, so I am reserving the right to back out. In fact, I haven't backed in. So, we'll see.

Also, Olla is planning a Memorial Day program at which they will read In Flanders Field. How she longs to hear In Flanders Field once more!

According to Olla, it has been just one thing after another at the Hilton--Olla walks more each day running errands up and down those halls than she has in years. Meetings. Lunch. Coffee. Church. Bible Study. Activities. At this rate, she's never going to get anything done on her long-term chores of writing the names on the back of the thousands of pictures she has, as well as other organizational tasks she has to finish before dies.

But it is best to be busy. Soon the frogs will be singing out at my house--that has been a goal of Olla's since last September--to hear the frogs sing out at my house.

No frogs yet, but the geese are honking, and boy does it sound good.


March 09, 2006

Melt

Major dripping off the roof today. We have a lot of snow to melt off yet, however. There still are no black spots on the fields. It is all white.

There is no open water to speak of, either--yet, today I saw two trumpeter swans fly low over the Cenex station and then saw what I thought were six more higher up in the sky close to the nursery. I have to say that made my day, seeing the swans again. They must be eating in the corn fields, as they certainly aren't finding any of their usual diet of swamp scum.

THE THOUGHT crossed my mind of running down to Minneapolis to see the Kirby Puckett memorial at the Dome. Then I thought, that's silly, driving 10 hours for a tribute to somebody I never met.

My friend Mark called from New Jersey. The New York stations were interviewing former Twins pitcher and New York City native Frank Viola. Viola's comment was that the magical thing about Puckett was that he made absolutely everybody in the ballpark happier: He made his teammates happier, as well as the opponents, the umpires, the crowd--absolutely everybody. He spread happiness.

I am reading more stories by reporters who recall the nice things he did for them. I know that is where I would draw the line. I don't think I could be consistently kind to reporters.

Another vision I keep having is of traditional grandmas by the thousand throughout the Midwest pausing as they passed through the living room when their eye caught Kirby on the tube. "Look at that guy!" they'd say. He pulled in the non-baseball fans, he was so irresistible.

Viola also made the point that kids as young as two years old were drawn to Puckett. Viola's own son was two years old when he began to call every ballplayer he saw Kirby Puckett.

So, I think it might be a big crowd at the Dome on Sunday night. I do hope so. I think the last (and only) funeral ever held at a stadium for a ball player was for Babe Ruth.


March 08, 2006

Buddy



It's gotten so this guy doesn't even budge when I pound on the piano. He's curious, but not afraid. Perhaps he's just so overpoweringly hungry that the allure of the bird seed keeps him within a few inches of the window. I hope the melting of the snow reveals more food for the deer. They don't look bad, but they're down to eating things that don't seem very appealing such as green ash bark.


Early sign of spring



Even though there are still a couple of feet of snow outside, today was beautiful--sunny and in the upper 30s. And the geraniums came. The first batch arrived at the Grand Forks airport this morning. Dad took the minivan up there and picked up those two pallets. Then, several more boxes of geraniums came UPS. So, by the end of the day, there was plenty to do.

Above, Lyla and Marian start transplanting the started geranium cuttings into pots. By the end of the week, we'll have about 10,000 or so geraniums growing in the quonset. We are off and running on the spring season at the nursery! It is a good feeling.


More Puckett lore

The stories pile up: A jeweler who works near the Metrodome became friends with Puckett after he patronized the man's store early in his career. Puckett, who apparently loved to sell things, agreed to do a promotion for the store (in fact it was his idea)--anybody who bought $100 worth of jewelry would get an autographed ball.

Well, people lined up for two blocks. And true to his word, Puckett made darn sure each family bought $100 worth of jewelry before they got their ball.

The friendship continued between this old Jewish jeweler and Kirby Puckett. When the jeweler's son passed away two years ago, Puckett flew in from Arizona for the funeral.

ANOTHER HEART WARMER: Several players report that Puckett seemed to make a point to know all of the clubhouse staff at every ballpark they visited. He not only knew their names, but the names of their families. Former Twin Randy Bush said that this was an extraordinary courtesy for any player to extend, much less a player of Puckett's stature.

Sort of reminds me of Paul Wellstone, who I recall vividly greeting the janitors at the state capitol by name when he visited in 1995.

OH, another one: Hall of Famer Al Kaline told about the annual gathering of the Hall of Famers in Cooperstown. They have a ritzy hotel there just for the players. They tend to gather in a lounge also just for them. When Puckett arrived the first time, he wasn't shy. He grabbed a microphone and made them all sing. Stan Musial. Willie Mays. Dave Winfield. Sandy Koufax. Man, I would pay just to see a tape of that one.

White Sox catcher and former Twin A. J. Pierzynski: "Kirby is the nicest man I have ever met." That coming from a guy nobody will ever call the nicest man they ever met.

Other players from many teams talk about how Kirby always greeted them as rookies--by name, right away. This, too, was an extraordinary courtesy.

Announcer John Gordon told a story about the time he offended a bunch of Twins coaches inadvertently. He distributed promotional gifts to the team--a sort of telescope--as a gift for their participation on the radio show. Turns out somebody at the company had gotten inferior telescopes for the coaches and staff--and they got torqued.

Well, Kirby noticed the coaches were mad at Gordon, realized Gorden probably felt bad and came over to Gordon during batting practice remind him that it wasn't his fault.

So, I am learning about Kirby. He wasn't just an entertainer. He did the hard work necessary to be a friend to many, many people. According to Gordon, Puckett was hyper-aware of the people around him and was constantly making them feel better even over the littlest thing.

Dave Winfield: "Kirby is the only player ever who everybody loved."

That's the same Dave Winfield who was hiding from the New York reporters in a player-only room after a game. Puckett, who buttered up reporters at every opportunity, knew they wanted to talk to Winfield--so he went in, grabbed Winfield by the shirt and dragged him into the interview room and left him there to fend for himself.


Caucus

Attended the DFL caucus and county convention--two formerly separate
events which are now combined--at the Ada school tonight. Much of it is
clap-trap, pushed along by Jim, our droll leader who marches us through
the motions with dry humor that the assembled faithful are a little too
shy to appreciate out loud.

For example, we held a somber election of an "affirmative action
officer," who is in charge of fielding complaints from anybody who
feels hurt or aggrieved by the convention proceedings. He/she/it is
also responsible to read the affirmative action statement, which
basically says that representatives of under-represented groups are to
have first crack at all party offices. Any wonder why the DFL party has
marginalized itself into irrelevance?

Jim also had fun with the notion that we were to elect 11 delegates to
the state convention and they were to be evenly divided between male
and female. "I am not sure how this is going to work," he said dryly.

For my part, I decided to introduce a resolution calling for the
impeachment of the president. The charges:

--That his administration has condoned, defended, covered-up and
legally justified torture of helpless detainees in violation of the
Geneva Conventions. This egregious violation of our own historic
principles has stained our reputation around the world and has
completely undermined our right to campaign for the good treatment of
prisoners in other nations.

--That the president has openly violated the FISA law passed by
Congress concerning wiretaps.

These matters of law are more pressing concerns, I argued, than a
president perjuring himself about an affair with an intern. If we are
going to have a long impeachment circus over sex, we should at least
have a public and very somber debate over whether the president is
above the law on matters of constitutional and world importance.

As he took up the resolution, Chairman Jim said, "This should be
interesting." As he read it, some people tittered a bit uncomfortably.

But I got a nice response from my little speech and the resolution
passed on a unanimous voice vote. That means most likely that not
everybody voted for it, but nobody voted against it. One man said
afterwards that the resolution was a bit extreme, perhaps, and I asked
him--what are we to do? How else are we to remind a president that he
is not above the law?


March 07, 2006

Puckett thoughts

It is always interesting to see how the media treats a fallen hero. You can go on the internet and watch the articles come down the pike as they are published. Usually, they are just a rehash of the same Associated Press article. Why I get into monitoring these things is anybody's guess.

With Puckett's death, many of the journalists from the far flung newspapers of the nation are seeing fit to write their own eulogies and tributes. I find this interesting. Most of them have some personal rememberance of Puckett, some connection, some memory which they seem compelled to report.

One reporter talked about cradling his four-day-old newborn as Puckett performed his Game 6 heroics in the 1991 World Series. Another talked about how he had to quickly purchase a ticket to fly from Baltimore to Minneapolis to cover Game 7 after Puckett extended the Series by winning Game Six.

A reporter from Chicago showed his provincalism by chiding Puckett for not doing more for the kids in the projects where he spent his first twelve years.

Old, cranky Patrick Reusse wrote a tribute in the Star Tribune which betrayed utter heartbreak. He and Puckett were friends.

Then, there are the tales from teammates, coaches and friends. Amazing stuff, really, if only because I can't imagine when Kirby got the time to be such a friend to everybody.

He called Torii Hunter often when he was a minor leaguer. He became friends with the guy who caught his Game 6 home run, bringing him along for his induction into the Hall of Fame. He sent a bottle of V.O. Whiskey to a minor league coach of his every month without fail--until the coach, Charlie Manuel, who now manages the Phillies, begged him to stop due to "health problems." Ahem.

Puckett knew the names of every player in spring training, even the lowliest rookies--and would give them gifts. He remembered individual fans. He was a close friend of staff in the Metrodome. He called reporters at home to give them flack--all in fun, of course.

When did he have time to do any of this?

Puckett was constantly taking opponents out to dinner. He'd throw in rookie with a veteran, usually a rookie outfielder for who he thought was promising. The tales keep coming out, and it has been less than a day since Kirby died.

But all this wonderfulness to the public and to his colleagues came, not surprisingly, with heavy price which was paid by those closest to him who knew all too well that there was a different Kirby.

This is a familiar pattern. The charmer, the beguiler, the wonderfully warm person, the magnetic, charismatic personality--the gregarioius, talented person who can't control his appetites and who ignores those who live with him.

Babe Ruth: Died of excess smoking and drinking. Had two children he barely knew. Cheated on his wife almost daily. Was a huge personality which charmed everybody in his path. And he was loved--that is the key word here--utterly loved by the public.

Mickey Mantle: Drank himself to death. Serial philanderer. Utterly talented. Magnetic smile, revered by colleagues. Charmed all he met with his personality.

Elvis: Loved by those who worked with him. Utterly magnetic. Irresistible public figure. A legend. Ignored his family. Died of overconsumption of food and pills.

Bill Clinton: Magnetic. Magic in person, according to those who have been near him. Huge personality. Lights up a room. Couldn't control his appetite for food and women.

I begin to think that you can't have benefits of the huge personality without the costs, for in order to be so attuned to the public, so attuned to public acclaim and the approval of all around you--you are likely driven by demons, the same demons which will eventually destroy you. Desperation for approval. Hopeless depression and hunger in its absence.

To these people, their families become mere props in their effort to charm the world. Love from those who already love you isn't satisfying--you must get more love all the time from people who haven't loved you before.

Another common denominator in these types: Gradual suicide once the source of public approval starts to dry up. Elvis Presley, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle are obvious examples.

Lyndon Johnson also comes to mind. His charisma wasn't the teddy bear type of Kirby, but it was considerable. He could give the famed "Johnson treatment" to anybody and win them over. He was overbearing but completely compelling in person. He womanized shamelessly, something which was kept quiet in those days.

Once Johnson lost his source of power, the presidency, he became pitiful. He held staff meetings at his ranch which eerily echoed the staff meetings at the White House--except he demanded accurate counts on the number of eggs the chickens laid.

When he moved back to the ranch from the White House, Johnson started smoking again after years on the wagon. He also consumed Cutty Sark whiskey by the case--a slow but sure way to do yourself in. He died only a few years later, a victim of his insatiable appetites.

Some sources are reporting that Puckett was nearing 400 lbs at his death. He could barely walk. He could barely see, of course, due to his glaucoma. He seemed to have a death wish.

When these charismatic personalities arise, it is fun for we the public to bask in their glow. What a twelve years it was watching Kirby play! I remember his first game, I remember his last and I remember exactly where I was when I heard of dozens upon dozens of his heroics on the ballfield. I won't bore you with the details of where I was standing when he went 6 for 6, but I could.

However, it seems inevitable that in order for us to be blessed by these special people, somebody has to pay the price. It usually is that person, who becomes a miserable wretch in the absence of the praise which is their manna, and those closest to him, who suffer the pain of being utterly inconsequential to the one they love.


March 06, 2006

Blyleven quote

Since word of the death of Kirby Puckett's death came out a little over an hour ago, the internet has been abuzz. You can check out all the weblogs by typing in Puckett's name on Technorati, a website which tracks the content of weblogs within minutes after it is posted.

One quote I hadn't heard: apparently, Bert Blyleven, great pitcher and current Twins TV commentator, once gushed during a broadcast: "If you don't love Kirby Puckett, you don't love life." Well said.



Kirby



Few people are known only by their first name. Kirby was one, at least in Minnesota.

Word just came out that Puckett died tonight at age 44 after suffering a massive stroke yesterday.

Even non-baseball fans in Minnesota have a soft spot for Kirby. You couldn't watch him play ball without smiling. Short and chubby-looking, Puckett reminded many of a fire hydrant.

Puckett's amazing on-the-field exploits, his constant smile, his bubbly demeanor, his friendliness, his jabbering, his life story--all combined to make him one of the most popular public figures in Minnesota history.

His career was cut short by glaucoma ten years ago. After his career ended, Kirby started to put on weight. Like Mickey Mantle, Kirby was convinced he wouldn't live a long life. Like Mickey Mantle, Puckett didn't take care of himself.

It also came out that Kirby's image as a loveable teddy bear wasn't in line with his private life, which was marred by allegations of abuse and harassment.

And so, Kirby was human after all.

But what a splash Kirby made across Minnesota in his time in the spotlight. He brought happiness to many, including any fellow ballplayer who crossed his path. His opponents and teammates alike revered him, as did his boss, Tom Kelly, and the man who signed his paychecks, Carl Pohlad. Broadcaster Bob Costas named his kid after him.

He was something special.


March 05, 2006

Passage to India

Yesterday, after my stomach apparently quit its week-long sour binge, I decided to test matters out right away by going to the Passage to India buffet in Fargo before my speaking engagement at the Hjemkomst Center.

Oh my. Their buffet is to die for. It is superior to any I have seen around here. It is a different cuisine than most Indian restaurants. Not only do you get to sample the buffet, with all its dishes and sauces, but they just keep bringing other stuff to your table as well. Warning: They do not hold back on the spices, so take small amounts of each dish just in case you can't handle it.

They had more desserts than I have seen at any Indian buffet. I tried the Vermicelli, a custardy dish made from noodles. It was delicious.

Passage to India is in a strip mall on 45th St. South in Fargo, near Wal-mart, just north of Conlin's furniture. They were busy yesterday afternoon, but I asked the lady and she said they have been very busy since they opened. That is good news. The last restaurant was good, but not nearly this good. And they really didn't have much flair for decor, etc. These people do. It is good to see them thriving. Perhaps good business will compensate for our weather.

AFTER the good meal, which upset my stomach not in the least, I went to speak to about 100 gardeners at the Hjemkomst Center. It was a fun crowd with good questions. I showed a few slides and then answered questions for well over an hour. I was scheduled for an-hour-and-a half, but good grief, who would want a speech that long, especially after these people had been sitting through talks since nine in the morning!


Picture problems



Due to a bug in Apple's iPhoto, which I found out on the web is common--and for which there is no known cure--I have been not taking pictures for a while. Now, I am learning a new program which promises to help: Photoshop Elements. However, it is more complicated, and I am going to have to take some time to get the hang of it. Here is my first attempt.