Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

December 23, 2006

Getting ready for China

Christmas takes a back seat in my mind to the trip to China. Lance and I are leaving the day after Christmas. Brother Joe will take us to Minneapolis. From there we fly to Chicago, and then non-stop to Shanghai.

People often ask those who are traveling: Have you packed yet? I have never understood this question. Why pack until the morning you leave? I know what I need, and I use all of it until the last minute, so it would be silly to pack ahead of time.

We are only leaving for 10 days, so whatever I forget I can buy. It is wonderful to know that somebody familiar will meet us at the airport in Shanghai and that I won't have those moments of terror which come from landing in an unfamiliar country and being on your own. Such adventures were fun when I was twenty-two. Now, they seem like too much work.

Went in to see Aunt Olla yesterday. She was in fine form. When I walked in, she was finishing up writing her last Christmas card. She has received over 40 of them, and she intends to answer them all, plus mail out to her regular list.

Olla hoards the cookies they bring her and gives them to me when I visit. I had to smuggle them out so the nurses at the Hilton didn't see.

Cousin Roy, who we are visiting in China, just emailed that he received a six-page letter from Aunt Olla in perfect penmanship. He doubted whether he would be capable of such a feat if he makes it to age 95.

December 21, 2006

Christmas shopping

Went down to Fargo to see what I could see. The hoards had descended upon West Acres, and there I was, lost amongst them. For some reason, the experience felt like some disaster out of the Old Testament, thus the King James language.

As I walked down the mall, I heard live guitar music. I was shocked to see my friend from high school, Darren Skanson with his cellist Kevin playing his music and selling CDs. Darren centers his growing music empire out of Denver, so seeing him in Fargo was novel.

Eventually, we went out for a bite to eat and caught up. We haven't had a good debate about music for several years, so when I slipped in a comment to the effect that Beethoven is a demogogic hack, Darren lit up in old Ludwig's defense, and we were off and running.

Beethoven is, of course, a hack, but he had his moments of brilliance. Such moments are simply too infrequent, and to get to them you have to sit through so much chawing and sawing and just plain noise. Darren thinks the brilliant moments are worth the wait; I don't.

Darren responded by assaulting Mozart. I think he believes Mozart is too dippy, too predictable. I agreed that I can't listen to Mozart much more than five days per year.

We're getting old. The argument was civil and quickly reached agreement.

We both agreed that Haydn should have been a ditch-digger or something to save us all the trouble of listening to his 100 symphonies, or however many he wrote.

We agree on the genius of Bach. However, Darren plays professionally for audiences and he says if you get into anything real complicated by Bach, the people turn off. Unfortunate! Darren's cellist plays the Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Bach--you can't be a cellist unless you take a crack at those masterpieces.

Although high school and college seem like yesterday, we did take some time to catch up on some sad news concerning old schoolmates. Age is setting in, even at 40 yrs. old.

SHOPPING was the usual stree. Now they have taken to adding dollars to your purchase for undeniably good causes like Make A Wish Foundation. Or, you can round up to the nearest dollar and give the change to some charity. Just out of sheer crankiness, I refused. I also refused two "frequent customer" cards from stores I know I will never enter again if I can help it.

Just ring me up and let me go.

And, how much tapping on a computer can possibly be required by a single purchase of a single item? Five-hundred taps per purchase? I think it is approaching that. Man, would it be fun to see a good old cha-ching cash register sometime instead of some teenie-bopper staring into a computer screen as if she's never seen one before, and then tap, tap, tapping for at least five minutes before finally generating about six receipts, the top one which I am to sign, and the bottom five which are for my records.

My records? What records? Am I supposed to be keeping records?

December 20, 2006

Fresh eggs

Friend Sheila from Ada brought over a care package today which included these beautiful fresh eggs from her chickens. She also brought some chicken soup, which I am using as sustenance since this darn flu thing isn't going away very fast.

Thanks, Sheila!

Earlier in the day, I went to town for some lunch thinking it would be good to get out of the house, but after eating lunch I realized that I was not prepared for solid food and I got woozy. So home I went.

I am not yet enjoying the flu as much as Aunt Olla did. I keep waiting, maybe the fun is yet to come.

The stiller I sit the better I feel.

I did take a little time to go to the Fertile Journal and look through some old newspapers from 1952, just to see how things were in town at the time and to compare the Journal to the Halstad paper.

Fertile had a great pitcher for their town team named Gus Isackson. He was legendary. I always wondered what became of him. They said he was good enough to pitch in the big leagues.

Well, I wasn't five issues into the 1952 papers when I found out: Isackson was drafted into the military to fight in Korea. While stationed in Guam, he and three buddies were looking for seashells on the beach. A tsunami arrived without warning, and Isackson was never found.

Wow. They held a benefit baseball game between Fertile and Clearbrook two weeks later to raise funds for his widow. Seven-hundred people showed up.

Town team baseball was so healthy during the early 1950s that many good players opted not to play professional baseball and instead stuck around town to play for their home team, which was, ahem, not supposed to be professional.

You couldn't pay the players, but was common for players from other towns to be lured to town for the summer with jobs, the difficulty of which varied greatly. For instance, Fertile had a pitcher in 1952 who was spending the summer working for the Fertile Journal. No word about his duties.

Dreaming of a Brown Christmas

What snow we have is melting fast. I don't mind one bit. I have always thought a white Christmas was overrated. We'll get snow soon enough. And it will stay through March.

I think it was in the early 1960s that Grandpa remembered doing a landscape job on Christmas Eve. The ground hadn't frozen yet.

We'll enjoy the mild weather while it lasts. It really takes the edge off when you don't have to bundle up so much to go outside.

I am looking forward to the trip to China. One week from now, we'll be in the air. The anxiety over the trip is working its way into my dreams: Last night, I dreamt I had crossed into North Korea but had forgotten my passport. I was sure I was going to end up in a prison camp somewhere. What a relief to wake up in my house.

YESTERDAY, I made a trip to the Chester Fritz Library at UND to find a specific book. Weblog reader Sandy helped me out at Special Collections. The book is entitled The Decline of Rural Minnesota, and it is a good summary of what happened to the small towns over the past sixty years.

In the first place, the countryside was oversettled. The rural areas were never going to maintain the population that immigrated here, especially when they started having such large families. There just were too many people for the land.

The authors, Joseph Amato and John Meyer, are centered out of Marshall, MN. They mainly deal with that corner of Minnesota. However, their conclusions are probably even more true for Norman County, the most rural and agricultural of all Minnesota counties.

"The more rural the area, the faster the decline," was one of their conclusions. Norman County was the first county in Minnesota to suffer natural decline, which means a death rate higher than the birth rate. That happened in the early 1980s.

Norman County has no regional centers. Crookston, Detroit Lakes and Moorhead are all outside the county lines. So, statistics from Norman County are more reflective of the rural situation than the statistics from most counties. The county had 15,000 residents in 1910. Today, it is falling below 7,000.

I would like to find out how many country schools there were in Norman County 100 years ago. Halstad Township alone had 13. They were consolidated down to one by 1950. The same ratio must apply to other areas of the county.

December 19, 2006

Olla gets the flu

Feeling sorry for myself for having the flu, I decided to call into the Fertile Hilton to see if Olla had gotten the bug, too. "Oh yes!" she said cheerfully, "and I've never enjoyed something so much in my life!"

Figures. Ninety-five years old and she's still enjoying even the flu. Olla only threw up once, and for crying out loud, she hasn't gotten caught up on her sleep for years she's been so busy, so the timing was just perfect. Now she's caught up. It was nice to have an excuse just to lay in bed.

Plus, they came with heated blankets for her and put a heat pad behind her head and another under her back, and "it was just heaven!" Oh, how they wait on her at the Hilton. "This is just the place," she said.

Today, she went uptown with Emil to the drug store. She took her fancy walker, which she usually leaves behind. It made such a difference, she just cruised up and down the aisles. So now Olla figures that I am not going to have to help her when she gets in and out of my pickup anymore--she'll be able to do that on her own. Finally.


It is going around. What made me think I could avoid it?

December 18, 2006

Pins for Obama's balloon

Political columnist Clarence Page pens a column which promises to find something not to like about Obama, but fails to deliver anything damaging.

Michael Barone, columnist for U.S. News and World Report strikes at a more relevant issue: Obama lacks experience as an executive.

JFK's lack of administrative experience cost him dearly when it came to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a failure which had its roots in adminstrative incompetence. Former President Eisenhower, a savvy administrator if there ever was one, saw what was happening and tried to warn Kennedy. Kennedy listened, but it was too late.

Obama would have to hire a strong chief of staff with Washington experience to deal with the bureaucracy and instill discipline in the White House. Both JFK and Clinton, as intellectually gifted as they were, never saw the importance of administrative structure, and it cost them.