Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

December 16, 2006

Employee party

Last night, we held the nursery employee Christmas party at a restaurant in Bagley. It was fun to get together with everybody.

The servers were overwhelmed, however, so things came slowly. We had more time to visit and talk than we had ever imagined!

Earlier in the day, I gave the last test to my classes, and we said our goodbyes. That was sad. Some lingered to talk. I'll really miss this batch of students. We got along pretty well.

We had to call the last test a quiz instead of a final to get around the fact that we were, in fact, having the final on the last day of class, a violation of University of Minnesota policy. Six of the students are taking the final next week due to heavy schedules, but most wanted to get it out of the way.

So, we called it "the mother of all quizzes."

One of the students who has struggled a bit handed in his test with "Father of all Failures!" written at the top. I hope he doesn't fail. I haven't corrected the mother of all quizzes yet.

I think I am finally old enough to teach. Ten years ago when I taught, I would get frustrated and angry and start battling the students a bit, trying to get them in line. Now, I just don't care. I do the best I can at presenting the material and if they want to sleep, or stay home, or whatever, they will pay the penalty on their final grade. But I won't get angry with them, and that is really the only way to do it in college. They are now adults, whether they have realized it yet or not.

Today is a dreary day in the northland. The sun was out earlier, but at about three o'clock, a bank of clouds rolled in which turned things gray. I crawled out of bed this morning, but after I broke the coffee carafe into little shards of glass, I went back to bed and slept three more hours!

My horoscope in the Fertile Journal this week said that I would have a great week, but that it would all fall apart on Saturday. I didn't think the stars would go so far as to shatter the carafe on the coffee-maker. I guess there have been some meteor showers going on, so perhaps that is what screwed things up.

TALKED to neighbors Mark and Sue yesterday. They recently returned from China. They were very excited that we are going. In fact, our itinerary looks much the same. They had a blast, even though, as Mark told me before he left, "the farthest I have ever been is to the Gary Pines!"

SEVERAL OF YOU have responded to my post on Barack Obama's speech on World AIDS Day. One Republican wrote that he has already signed up as an Obama supporter. A Democrat wrote that she saw Obama speak and was entranced.

Politics is cruel. The media lifts people up and then slashes them down. Obama is probably peaking about a year-and-a-half too early. That is assuming he is peaking. He is smart enough to know that the love-fest going on right now won't last, but he might just keep on convincing people, who knows.

The Republican who responded is a friend from the organ tour I took to Mexico two years ago. He says of Obama:
Although I'm under no illusion that he is anything other than a Democrat, and a liberal at heart, I am encouraged by the fact that he is willing to engage both sides in a discussion, that he does not automatically toss away the views of others. He seems to have all the qualities of a leader that some of wish for, and I for one am willing to postpone electing someone of my own ideology if it means we could have a reasonable and honest man. He has a real life story, and is pretty well grounded in the real world.

But Rush Limbaugh has started attacking him, calling him "Barack Odumbo," because of his large ears. Keep it up, Rush! Nice follow up to your mocking of Micheal J. Fox's Parkinson's Disease symptoms.


December 15, 2006

Keillor on Christmas letters

Garrison Keillor give his commentary on the annual screeds.


December 14, 2006

Review, clarified

Weblog reader Irene protests that I should have spent more time on the topic rather than fooling around during the review session. I should have explained. We didn't just fool around. I answered many questions about the topics on the exam. But I refuse to just start rehashing the material without direction from the students. It is up to them to ask me questions about the material I put on the review sheet. If they have no questions, then I head off on a tangent just so they know that they're going to have to take the initiative if they want me to help.


Relics

A roll of microfilm of the Halstad newspaper came into the Ada Library today, so I ran right over to start reeling through it.

I am like a pig in mud in old newspapers, so it is difficult to keep my nose on the grindstone and stick to the topic. The Halstad paper at the time was a little sparse, but it does give a good record of the sports events, at least.

Above the gossip column was a box which said, "The best compliment you can give to your guests is to announce their visit in the newspaper!"

Yoiks.

I got an angry letter today from a gossip columnist who has been writing for some sixty years. I haven't read it in detail yet. I usually let such letters cool down for a few days first. But she said that people used to drop off their gossip items at the general store in written form and she would pick up the stack of notes once per week.

I look forward to reading her defense of the small town gossip column genre.

This morning, I got a call at 10:40. I was supposed to have been at the Villa St. Vincent in Crookston at 10:30. I didn't forget, I just assumed I was supposed to arrive at 2:15 like I had the past few times. I looked on my calendar, and sure enough, the time was 10:30. So, they held the nursing home residents there while I drove up to Crookston. I don't think they cared. I played while they got ready for their noon meal.

Agnes Rolf, an old customer, now in her mid-nineties, was crocheting doilies. She gave one to me and sent another one along for my mother. She is fully alert and full of vinegar.

Every time I go to the Villa, about once per year, I am amazed that old customer Phyllis is still doing the same. She always seems in such rough shape, but she lasts year after year, and has such nice things to say. She's another old Scandanavian who told me "we need to have more fun!"

The flu has been going through the Fertile Hilton. My long-time buddy Milton passed away yesterday. His organs shut down only a few hours after he contracted the flu. His funeral is Saturday. Two others in the Hilton passed away this week, but they had other unrelated ailments.

Milton is really one of Fertile's institutions. He used to pitch for the town baseball team. He threw nearly underhanded. Then he sold insurance and had a clothing store for a while. He was in terrific pain with a back ailment for about a decade--but then, after several unsuccessful surgeries, one operation cured him completely--and so, although he was failing in other areas in the past years, he was always in great spirits, thrilled to be without back pain. I will miss Milton. He was always wonderfully kind to me.

Art Larson, another nursing home resident, also passed away this week. I just found out by email that he was in one of the first companies of soldiers to land in Japan in 1945. He had pictures of the fried skeletons of victims of the atomic bomb in his possession.


Ghost tree



There's been a lot of this sort of thing outside the past few days.


December 13, 2006

Review day

Today in class we just reviewed the material. The running joke is, if the students don't ask questions about the material on the exam, I am free to talk about anything I wish, and I did. World War II, Vietnam War, Teddy Roosevelt, all things irrelevant to the exam.

One of the students offered a story. He went to kindergarten having just turned five. The first day, he was on the merry-go-round and found he had to pee. So, he just went to the edge and peed off into space as the merry-go-round turned. That seemed best to him!

Well, the authorities sent him home and told his Mom, "Let's try again next year."

"I didn't know any better!" he protested, wondering what his life would have been like if he had finished school a year ahead of when he did.

One student brought a bottle of Coke with some cups to pass around. So, we had a little party. Of course, some students want no part of it and fall asleep. But that's the risk you take. I hate things to be all business all the time!


Lake Park Lutheran

Tonight I entertained at the Lake Park Lutheran Christmas party, held in the sanctuary. There was a nice turnout. I know most of the people since my Uncle Bob was pastor there for seventeen years.

I did a whole program--mostly speaking and playing some music which seemed appropriate--Chopin, Greensleeves, Joy to the World, some Joplin. Then, I said, let's finish with Silent Night.

One woman objected. "I am not leaving until I hear Willie Nelson," she said. The others chimed in. So, I sang Willie Nelson, then George Jones, and then they seemed happy singing Silent Night.

Afterwards, there was a Lutheran lunch of ham sandwiches, jello salad and Christmas goodies downstairs. I had a fun time visiting.

One stern-looking man came up to me and started talking. I was almost worried he thought some of my readings were a bit irreverent. Without smiling, he said, "You know, I sometimes tink we take ourselves to seriously."

I laughed, in part because such a sentiment was coming from such a serious place.

Then he went on: "You know, it might be good if we more frequently broke out into song!"

I laughed harder, and agreed. He walked away, barely having broken a smile.

Under all those stern Scandanavian faces are people just wanting to have fun, apparently.


December 12, 2006

So that's the problem!

I pass along this frightening article for the general edification.


Obamamania

Barack Obama's World AIDS day speech at Rick Warren's church in California is worth a read. It oozes compassion, intelligence, thoughtfulness and conviction.

Look out for this guy. He's the real deal. He went to New Hampshire last week and drew overflowing crowds. He creates rock star excitement. Some people say he needs seasoning. I beg to differ. Four more years in the Senate has never done anybody an ounce of good. He's in his mid-forties. Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and John Kennedy weren't any older.

Wouldn't it be exciting--we may have a decent choice of presidential candidates the next election. If the Republicans nominate either McCain or Guiliani rather than one of the dogmatic wing-nuts, and if the Democrats find somebody who hasn't sold their soul to focus groups and special interests, the country will be well-served.


December 11, 2006

Winding down

Gave the last lecture in history class for the semester today. The students are tired, and many of them are sick. They look bedraggled. I feel a little the same.

Sort of sad to see the end of the semester. One student summed it up today: "This sucks." I asked another how he was doing. "Sad," he said. Why? I asked. "Last class." So, it wasn't torture for them all, at least.

On this dreary, cloudy day nearly everybody I ran into was eager to visit. I talked a lot in the halls at UMC. I talked for a long while when I stopped for a cup of coffee at the gas station. The man I talked to hunts deer with a muzzle loader. I asked how accurate they were, and he said that you would have a tough time hitting the broad side of a barn with some of them.

And, instead of eating at the dining hall at UMC, I went up to RBJs restaurant and sat at the counter. Happened to sit next to an interesting man who built houses for a living before he retired. We had a great visit which drifted into the philosophical.

Lance and I will head to China for 10 days after Christmas. I suddenly realize that the date of departure is about two weeks away. Nothing really to do in preparation. The visas are due in the mail any day. When they show up, we'll be set.

Cousin Roy is in China, and he urged us to come over while he is there so he can give us a tour. We will land in Shanghai, then take the train on a tour up to Bejiing, the Great Wall, and Suzcho. Roy has taught Chinese history. Plus, he has connections in all of the places we visit. I suspect we will come home with our heads full.

Meanwhile, packages from the Everlast boxing equipment company have been arriving at the nursery. Turns out, Everlast is popular in China, but not available without huge customs fees. So, I am bringing some along boxing equipment for the owner of the apartment building in Shanghai where Roy lives.

I plan to pack light in case I want to bring a lot of things home. I always have great ambitions of bringing home many things, but I usually just come back with what I brought over in the first place.

I hope to be able to post weblog entries from the Far East. I am not sure if I will be able to post pictures until I return. I suspect I will take hundreds of photos, of which perhaps two dozen will be worth posting.

Right now, I am so tired and lethargic that the thought of traveling wears me out thinking about it. However, I usually pep up for something exciting and different. My biggest worry is jet lag. It is such a pain. Last trip to Europe, I used Melatonin, and I had no problem. I hope it works for China as well.

A 10-day trip seems short, but when you are busy the whole time, it seems like a month. As I get older, my taste for big, long trips wanes. Ten days is about right. Any longer and I would start counting the days until I got home.

I can tell that when I get back from China, I will probably still want to spend a little time in Arizona! China this time of year is damp and mid-40s. At least where we will be.


December 10, 2006

Hi Cynthia!

I spoke to my friend Cynthia, 10 years of age, on the phone yesterday. She reported that she reads this weblog every day!

Have a good week in school, Cynthia!


Lake Region Garden Club

Tonight, I spoke in Detroit Lakes to the Lake Region Garden Club. There must have been sixty people there, both men and women.

I complimented one of the ladies on having a garden club with male participation. "Oh, they're good to come to the potlucks!" she said.

What food. And they served it on the largest plastic plate I have ever seen, a styrofoam rectangle with five compartments. Plus, I got to be at the front of the line, a privilege I have never yet turned down.

Ate too much. When I tried to play and sing, I was on the edge of a burp the whole time. Miserable. Even speaking about gardening was a little much with that much food in my stomach.

But speaking about gardening is always fun.

Yesterday, I went to Bemidji to speak to some Lutheran women. Again, about sixty. I was the only male. They had a brief business meeting. I decided to loudly second the motion to approve the treasurer's report.

I was to talk about Christmas memories, a new topic. So, I read some columns out of my books which dealt with Christmas, well aware that my cynicism about the Holiday was probably a bit much. I tried to leaven the columns with lighter stories in between.

It went fine, and I sold every book I had in my pickup afterwards and have to mail out seven more to people tomorrow. Now that's fun.

To complete the weekend, I had some friends and neighbors over last night. Four of my students showed up as well. The Swamp Castle is a good place for a party. The women congregated in the living room where they discussed candles and drapes. The men hung out in the garage and burped. A good time was had by all.