Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

October 07, 2006

Good 8 Evil 3

Detroit beat the Yanks! Without the Twins to pull for, a person is left to root against the Yankees. And there is no team which deserves to lose more than the Yankees, the arrogant, evil Yankees who seem to think they should be able to purchase a pennant and who get indignant when it doesn't work out that way.

The Detroit vs. Oakland series will be a no-lose proposition. No matter who wins, it is a great story.

October 06, 2006

The falling leaves

Today's strong south wind stripped away any leaf that was on the verge of falling. Suddenly, I can see the field through the woods where yesterday I only saw foliage.

The Twins' season ended with a whimper. We'll have to just remember last Sunday when the Twins took over the division lead on the last day of the season.

I am shot from this week. Classes, four speaking engagements, one in Mankato--and Laural's funeral.

I was able to psyche myself up to get through the funeral. I was pretty nervous as I had never played such a role before. I pretty much ended up being the minister, a job for which I have no official qualification whatsoever. But it went fine. All I try to do is focus on the overall goal of making people feel comfortable.

Eight years ago, I gave the eulogy at my Uncle Bob's funeral. I was nervous. It went fine, but the eulogy was written better than it was delivered. I was tense.

A few days later, Dad gently suggested that once I arrive at the podium, I should take a breath and attempt to set the audience at ease with a little smile, even at a funeral. There is a tension when somebody arrives at a podium which needs to be broken in order for the audience to listen without apprehension.

Dad is a savvy public speaker. I remember his first advice to me on public speaking. It came when I graduated from high school. I was to give a speech in tribute to a teacher who had passed away during the school year. I had filled the speech with superlatives. "Mr. Starkson was the most...." etc. Dad said, I don't care if he was "the most," saying so will just invite people to search for exceptions.

So, the first rule in eulogies or other tributes: Purge the superlatives!

And now, a second rule: Set the audience at ease, even if you are not.

Aunt Olla's 95th birthday party, cont.

October 05, 2006

Aunt Olla's 95th birthday party

Well, Aunt Olla's long-anticipated 95th birthday party went off without a hitch. For some reason, I had gotten the idea that it was to be held at 3 p.m. Still tired from yesterday, I took a nap and got started getting the house party-ready about 1:30. I had no more than swept the garage floor when three cars pulled in the yard. The party was off and running.

The food was grand. Olla was in her element. She refused to sit down and stay put. Instead, she was going up and down the stairs to my living room, spending time out on the porch, coming back in to the kitchen, then up and down the stairs. It made me nervous, especially when it appeared she was going to head down a little stairstep which had no railing. I just about flipped.

Two years ago, Olla could barely navigate stairs.

Her nephew Roy, long Olla's favorite, called from China. It was 4:30 in the morning there. When Aunt Ede handed Olla the phone, she didn't know who it was. Roy introduced himself as "somebody who wanted to talk to a 95-year-old."

"I have my birth certificate!" Olla announced, and then was thrilled to find out it was Roy.

Olla's friend Sybil drove up from Anoka. She's a great piano player, so she sat down and played while Joe trundled along on the guitar.

Olla's niece Leanne and her husband Tom drove up from the Cities as well, just for the party. Tom is a professional musician, and Olla thought it would be nice to have some music from Tom. So, he brought his trumpet and a whole ream of music and Brother Joe and he fixed up some songs.

Olla had the program written out in detail, but we soon diverged. Tom and Sybil knew some old Norwegian songs, and they did some standards as well. Joe and he did "Crazy," as well as a song Tom wrote in honor of his mother-in-law, Olla's sister Millie.

At that point, I had to leave for a speaking engagement. I had long ago promised to speak at the annual meeting of the Polk County Historical Society. Olla's party was four hours old when I left, and they hadn't started to open the gifts yet.

THANKS to those of you weblog readers who sent Olla cards. She received over 40 birthday cards in the mail. She was thrilled to hear from her relatives in Nevada--the family of her brother Burnett and sister-in-law Adeline. Even their grandchildren sent cards. So did many of her nieces and nephews from California. I am thanking you all here because Olla is going to be too busy for a while to acknowledge all the cards.


Oh, let's skip it.

October 04, 2006

Prairie Home Funeral

My student Laural's funeral was held today at the 4-H Building on the fairgrounds in Ada. People kept pouring in until there were more people standing than sitting. Then, they had to open the big garage doors and have people stand outside to the west looking in. With the perfect fall day, having the big garage door open worked well.

When I talked to Sheila's mother after Laural's accident, she asked me if I had any ideas for a funeral. I volunteered to try to come up with some. Eventually about three of us worked together over email on finding songs and arranging things. I was assigned to be the MC. The plans were still coming together this afternoon, and it worked out fine.

It was sad to see the kids crying. Even though Laural was at UMC and had been home schooled for some time before that, the local school changed football practice and volleyball practice for Laural's funeral. Somebody commented that Laural would have loved it, since she hated the whole high school football thing with a passion.

There was a very large turnout of kids. I was amazed. I recognized many UMC students. Laural was active in many clubs and organizations in addition to her devotion to 4-H.

The one part of the funeral service which made me nervous was the time when people were to share their thoughts about Laural. There can be some uncomfortable silences in those situations. I am a little impatient with uncomfortable silences, so I feared I would rush things as I ran around with the microphone like Oprah.

It worked out pretty well. Some of Laural's friends in the front row told a few stories, and then things got rolling and I would say perhaps 10-15 people spoke, covering quite a range of experience.

Most touching was a kid who met Laural this summer at a camp and, as he put it, "She, like, fell in love with me in ten minutes."

They went out for one month, and it didn't work out (I would say that's longer than average for a summer camp romance), but he said he still loved her and had driven three hours to pay his respects.

The poor kid was sort of lost. I talked with him afterwards for quite some time and he talked about when he got the email that Laural had died and how tough it was to go on with school. He talked and talked. I asked him how he got food so soon, and he said, oh he latched onto the family and got right up front. Pretty soon he was back with seconds and the line had moved two feet from where I was standing!

Victor from Nigeria, a delightful but overly laid-back student of mine from two years ago who never showed up on time no matter what-- that is when he bothered to show up at all--commented on Laural's insistence upon arriving very early for everything. He didn't understand it. Never could. But man, could she make good cookies!

Another foreign student said that at one time, when she first arrived, "Laural was my only friend."

And so, the funeral went fine, as fine as a funeral for an eighteen-year-old could go.

October 03, 2006


After I finished my speech in Mankato today, a woman grabbed me as I walked out of the room.

"Kevin Garnett is in the bar!" she said.

I wasn't sure what to do with that information, but I sort of felt obligated to go to the bar.

When I walked through the doors, I found myself in the middle of fifteen Timberwolves and their general manager Kevin McHale.

The oversized men were all seated in chairs which looked too small for them. They were slouched over, eating off what looked to be miniature plates. It was a bar, so the eating situation didn't look too comfortable.

The long legs in those small chairs made the Wolves' knees stick up inordinately high. Combined with the slouched backs, the players looked more like vultures feeding on prey than Wolves. McHale looked like Frankenstein.

The room was utterly silent but for the clink of silverware. Practice this morning must have been tough. On the big screen, Santana was pitching to the A's. The sound was off. I acted as if I was interested in the game, which of course I was.

One of the attendees at my seminar snuck in behind me.

"There's Garnett!" she whispered. She had a notebook in her hand. "My son just loves him."

At that moment, I began to feel utterly ridiculous and I left.

From what I saw of the Wolves camp, it must be a horribly boring affair for those guys. Hotels all season. Hotel food. Bars. Bar stools, bar tables, big screen televisions, all that. All season. Ugh. You couldn't pay me enou....well, yes you could.

TWINS: Great game, but they lost. I am not despairing. I try to turn off emotion in the post-season or the whole thing would drive me crazy.

Driving home, I had to pull into Evansville, MN for gas. It was off the freeway a couple of miles, so the station was one of those old-fashioned ones with a greasy floor and an attendant with a greasy shirt. He had the other game on.

We discussed the Twins at length. We both agreed that Gardenhire should have brought in Neshek instead of Crain.

"Whooping Crain, I call him," said the attendant. "Sure enough, he took a whooping!"

At my seminar earlier in the day, attended entirely by female teachers, the main topic of interest was the Twins. We stood in the lobby and watched until we were forced to go into the room and get down to business. I asked the seminar organizer to interrupt with any changes in the score during my speech. There were none. It was 2-0 when I started, 2-0 when I finished.

Isn't it fun when the Twins win? At every stop on my trip, I could talk Twins. Everybody had an opinion. Everybody was eager to converse. There is some value to it, no matter how much we malign the poor overpaid overgrown adolescents we expect to provide us this enjoyment.

Even Aunt Olla got into the act. I called her at the Fertile Hilton from Mankato to see how the birthday plans were coming, and she said, "Oh, how about those Vikings! I watched them, and what a game!" I knew she meant the Twins, but it was entertaining to hear her say that she couldn't believe when the Vikings pulled ahead of the White Sox 5-1.

She had gone down to the lobby of the Fertile Hilton where they served Cracker Jack and Mt. Dew during the game. I don't think Olla had had Mt. Dew before. She claimed it was from the Great Smoky Mountains, so no wonder she enjoyed it so much.

But the important thing: Those Vikings (Twins) are so clean cut! They just look like such nice kids! And those White Sox...well, they're sort of...scruffy.


For all the beautiful fall colors I saw in the past two days driving to and from Mankato, the only photo I had time to take was this one of the town square in Hutchinson. Hutchinson is a beautiful town just west of the Twin Cities. The building in the background is the library. The town square reminds me of the town squares in Mexico. Every town should have one, for they are beautiful spaces.

What made this better is that the three sides of the square other than the library were lined with thriving storefronts, including a coffee shop which served me a wonderful white chocolate mocha.

Breakfast with the Wolves

Well, not exactly. There was a beautiful buffet laid out in the hotel restaurant, but that was for the Wolves. I had to order off the menu. Blogging nurserymen get no respect.

The attention of the cooks and waitrons was diverted, to say the least. My waitress was so distracted--starstruck?--that she forgot this and forgot that. The cooks were clearly preoccupied with catering to the needs of the Wolves. Again, I felt like shouting, "Don't you know who I am? I have a weblog read by dozens! I am a budding motivational speaker! When I start selling books and tapes on late night television you're going to wish you got me my omlette on time!"

But I saved my breath.

The kid in the buffet line who was making custom omlettes for the Wolves couldn't help himself. After loading a big omlette on Kevin Garnett's plate, he went around the corner, did a fist pump and high-fived a waitress.

I have the morning to consider my motivational speech. I keep thinking about Chris Farley, the late great actor on Saturday Night Live. He used to do skits where he was a low-life who was attempting to get his life going by becoming a motivational speaker. Hilarious.

October 02, 2006


Drove down to Mankato after class to do another motivational speech for teachers tomorrow. Seven hours. Some nice scenery between St. Cloud and Mankato on Highway 15. I look forward to seeing the Minnesota River valley tomorrow during the day. New roads for me.

Got to the Mankato Holiday Inn and checked in. Sort of like Rochester...a quiet downtown.

I thought it was kind of odd that there were a lot of tall guys hanging around the hotel. They looked like basketball players, so I wondered if there was some sort of college tournament in town.

Dumb me. The Timberwolves are in town for training camp. They are staying on my floor. And as of 11 p.m., they are all in bed. The coaches, however, are downstairs gambling at the bar. Not official gambling, mind you. They brought their own chips and deck of cards. I don't know if that is legal, but I will not be the one to blow the whistle.

They're going to be eating breakfast tomorrow at the buffet. Now, if I only knew what some of the players looked like, I could tell you tomorrow night that I saw Kevin Garnett, or whatever, but I am such a non-basketball fan that it would be stupid of me to try to act all awestruck now.

I had it all figured out: I give my big motivational speech at 1 o'clock tomorrow. Get done at 2. The Twins, according to the internet, are playing at 1 p.m. Eastern. So, I figured I would get to listen to them starting when my seminar was done at 2 p.m. Central.

Got my time zones mixed up. One o'clock Eastern is noon Central, not 2 p.m. So, I will spend the bulk of the game at the podium. Bummer.

I kind of like this motivational speech thing. I get about five days wages plus mileage for one hour of talking. Of course, I will, for this one at least, spend 14 hours on the road. But the mileage rate of 44.5 cents per mile means that I am getting a pretty good hourly wage for that time as well.

October 01, 2006

Twins win!

A fantasy end to the Twins sparkling season: On the last day, they pull out the division title by beating the White Sox while the hapless Kansas City Royals, losers of 100 games, came back from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Tigers 10-8 in 12 innings. Amazing. The only day of the year the Twins spend in first place is the only day it really matters.

Joe Mauer wins the batting title, the first time a catcher has won a batting title in the American League in 100 years. Santana is the best pitcher in baseball, hands down. Morneau is a possible MVP. Torii Hunter has returned to good form. This team is fun to watch, and watch them I have. Hundreds of hours this season spent in front of the television--and not one regret.


My student Laural passed away last evening after being taken off life support. Her organs were donated to help others. My heart goes out to her parents, David and Sheila.

Laural was quite a girl. A few years ago, she wrote me wondering about how to publish a book. I wrote back with some tips. Turns out, she had finished a novel--hundreds of pages, all written in a notebook. I told her the first thing she needed to do was type it into a computer.

This she did. Last Wednesday, the last time we talked, she was talking about how her one computer crashed and she was trying to get the novel transferred to another computer. But there wasn't a hint of discouragement. She was determined. She had a determined walk and a determined look in her eye, and an innocent faith that her labors would be rewarded.