Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

June 30, 2007

Aunt Olla goes on a trip

To illustrate my statement below that everything always turns out for the best for Aunt Olla, I will tell a story of what happened five years ago almost to the day.

Aunt Olla's only surviving sibling Burnett and his wife Adeline were slated to have their sixtieth wedding anniversary party in Reno, NV. Although Olla was 90 years old at the time, she and I got the same idea at the same time: Let's surprise them and show up.

This was going to be fun. I bought the tickets. I reserved a hotel room at one of the casinos. Secrecy was maintained. The only problem was, I had my 20th class reunion the night before and we were going to have to leave at four a.m.

My class reunion was held at the American Legion Hall. We were rolling along when I got called to the phone. It was Uncle Orville. I couldn't imagine what he wanted, or how he knew I was at the Legion. Turns out, Olla had fallen and broken her arm on the way to get her hair done in preparation for our trip.

Not only that, but Olla went into shock. Her blood pressure went way down and they just about lost her on the way to Fargo in the ambulance.

I called her at the hospital on my cell phone. She said, you go anyway. I did. But I didn't hear the rest of the story until I got home.

After they got Olla stabilized, which took only hours, it was time for her to go home from Fargo to Twin Valley. But her usual chauffeur, me, was in Reno. So--she called a cab.

Trouble was, the cab company didn't have a traditional cab available for the 50 mile one-way trip, so they sent a stretch limousine.

Well now Olla was in her glory. She relished every moment of the trip, and when they arrived in front of the apartment building in Twin Valley, the man opened the door for her, and she set her shoes on the sidewalk.

What made the moment so perfect is that Olla's sister-in-law and two neighbor ladies had just finished checking on Olla's apartment. As they walked outside, they saw the limo approach. Who in the world would be coming here in such a fancy limo? they asked each other.

When Aunt Norma saw Olla's old shoes step onto the pavement she knew. Olla was home early, one day after nearly dying, and she came home in style. "Best ninety dollars I ever spent!" Olla said later.

Olla said it sure was a good thing she broke her arm on the way to the beauty shop because she could never survived that trip to Reno anyway. But by buying the ticket, she could say that she had made a good faith effort to get to the party. And if she hadn't broken her arm, she would never have gotten to take that victorious ride in a limo.

So, it all worked out for the best.

Events of the day

After spending the morning shopkeeping at the nursery, I attended a 50th anniversary celebration of one of our most faithful customers over the years. I was to play piano for a while, I didn't know how long. I had played for about twenty minutes when a gentleman starting tuning up his accordian behind me. I took that as a hint that I should probably leave.

Then, it was off to the Norman County Fair in Ada for a presentation of a scholarship named in honor of a student of mine, Laural, who died in a car crash last fall. I am on the committee who decides to whom the scholarship goes, so I was there to help hand out the plaques with Laural's parents and another member of the committee. The scholarship was awarded as a part of the 4-H awards program.

And...I was late.

So, I got some razzing for that, given the column I wrote about lateness last week.

One of Laural's relatives, there for the ceremony, told me a cell phone horror story. She was at a funeral and somebody's cell phone started playing The Entertainer. The woman dug in her purse for the longest time before she got the phone shut off. Meanwhile, the entire church was treated to some mid-sermon computerized Scott Joplin.

Rep. Kent Eken was at the ceremony, and he shared a story about a state representative who was speaking in committee only to have her cell phone go off in her purse which was about fifteen feet away in her chair. The person sitting next to the purse didn't know if he should go digging, and finally he got the signal that he should, but it quit ringing. Of course, it soon started again, and then the representative herself had to go over and dig in her purse. It was regarded as funny--I am sure it was a welcome relief from the committee hearing--but I can imagine if it happened a lot, it would get tiring.

A NICE WIN FOR the Twins tonight over rival Detroit. Last night, Santana did his thing. Tonight, the Twins scored some runs for rookie Kevin Slowey. Taking two from the Tigers is a good thing. I don't hold out much hope for tomorrow, what with Scott Baker starting and all, but two out of three isn't bad. The Twins have been quietly winning over the past 10 days.

I can't watch, however, because my satellite dish went on the blink for the fifth time this spring. I am sure the repairman wishes I would go away. This time, I can't even blame a storm, for the weather has been perfect.

COUSIN DAVID BERGESON, a first cousin of my father's (and a weblog reader) visited this morning. He and his wife Pat live in Wichita, KS. They brought their little grandson Jack along. He is going into the first grade. The highlight of the visit was when my Dad decided to give Jack a ride on 1) the golf cart and 2) the tractor. Jack had never driven either, and he had a blast. Nothing more fun that to see a kid jump up and down and say, "That was fun!" David and I talked about how very few kids any more get the experience of driving farm machinery at an early age, something we both benefitted from.

Of course, a visit to the Fertile Hilton to see ninety-five-year-old Aunt Olla (which I should tell you long-term readers is pronounced "Allah," by interesting coincidence, short for Olive, which is her real name and the name most people call her) was on Cousin David's agenda. However, Olla could barely stand the suspense of not knowing if and when David was coming and what would happen when he did. She loves to set the agenda, and for crying out loud, David didn't call ahead of time so she could inform him how his visit was going to work.

Well, when Olla and I talked this morning, she told me to inform David that they were going to take her to lunch. Beyond that, I don't know what happened. I am sure it all worked out for the best. With Aunt Olla, it always does. But not without some suspense and trauma as it all plays out.

June 29, 2007

Perfect weather

The past three days have been beautifully cool. Today, the sun came out. It is ideal June weather.

Things are beautiful on the swamp. Today, two new broods emerged from the weeds: A family of mergansers and a family of blue-winged teal. The teal are especially playful, diving under the water and popping up, shaking their head, then diving again as if they are trying to remove a cocklebur from the back of their head.

Every time I interview somebody for this book, I find that the next day I am utterly drained and useless. I wanted to do nothing today, and fortunately, things were quiet enough at the nursery to allow me to do just that.

My high school buddy Michael has returned from 16 months in Afghanistan. He looks great. He and his wife Jen came to the nursery today to look around, and it was good to visit. The sixteen months went so fast that it seems like just yesterday we were having the good-bye party for him. I am sure the time didn't go as fast for Michael.

Michael has two young children who are glad to have him home, too.

I think returning home is as much a challenge to him as being gone. You are faced with people's ignorance about what is going on overseas. In particular, people don't take the time to learn the difference between the Afghanistan mission and the Iraq mission.

Although Michael is in the guard, he was in the U.S. Army at one time, and he really is a career soldier. You can tell he loves it. And I think he is happy he had a chance to use his twenty-five years of training in a real situation. Michael was engaged in training Afghan Army units, equipping them to fend off the Taliban.

June 28, 2007

Prophetic Valentine

Mr. Williamson, pictured below, brought me this memento today. It is a clipping from a Saturday Evening Post given as a Valentine in 1952 from a young John, who was in grade school in Thief River, to his babysitter, who was a cheerleader and Williamson's girlfriend at the time. Apparently the boy, who was the son of the Lutheran minister, had something of a crush on the cheerleader.

Little did little John know how prophetic his Valentine would be. In less than a month, the scene was played out to a tee: Halstad came into the Thief River Falls gymnasium and defeated the home team. The score? Just as Norman Rockwell had painted it: Halstad 54, Thief River Falls 53.

Two old gladiators

On the left is Roger Williamson, center for the Thief River Falls Lincoln High School basketball team in 1952, on the right is Don Thompson, Halstad's center that year. Today was the first time the two have shaken hands since the region final 55 years ago when little Halstad stunned Thief River.

Williamson scored over half of Thief River's points, amassing 28 before he fouled out. Thompson had 14 points until he was fouled with a few seconds left. He made both free throws, and that was the difference. Halstad won 54-53 and went on to become the darlings of the state tournament.

Williamson went on to the Naval Academy. He flew in Vietnam and was later a military attache to several European countries. After he retired, he managed money, which had always been his passion. He still studies the stock market. He also studies history.

Thompson is retired from 1) a full-time teaching job 2) a full time accounting practice and 3) running his own construction firm, three jobs he did simultaneously. He was, he said, determined not to be poor.

The two seemed to enjoy meeting each other tremendously, and we had a great visit.

June 27, 2007


In 1952, tiny Halstad met big, bad Thief River Falls in the Region 8 basketball final. The game was held in Thief River Falls. And Halstad upset Thief River to advance to the state tournament and become the media darlings of the entire state. I am spending this summer completing a book on Halstad's 1952 season.

The center on the Thief River team was Roger Williamson. A while back, I gave him a call and we talked at length about the game. He was gracious enough to talk to me about what was, by his definition, one of the lower points of his life. Williamson went on to a successful military career, graduating from West Point and becoming a colonel in the Air Force.

At the end of our interview, I half-seriously said if you ever come north (he lives in Colorado now), let me know. Well, he is coming back to the area for a class reunion this week, and he let me know. The plan is to have lunch in Fargo, and then we will drive up to Mahnomen where Don Thompson, his opposing center in that big game in 1952, now resides. I will be there with my voice recorder and camera, and I am just going to stand back and let the two old gladiators talk.

Thompson and Williamson went head to head four times in their high school career. Halstad won two of the games, Thief River came out ahead twice, but Halstad won the big one, the 1952 region final. Back then, going to state was huge.

I hope to have a picture or two for you tomorrow night.

Lots of Traffic

In the past two weeks, visits to this site have gone up dramatically. Yesterday, the web-counter showed that there were 899 visitors. That is the most ever. I can't figure why the spike in hits, since I haven't been writing any more than usual or putting up any more pictures than usual, but it is fun. And it motivates me to keep posting at least once per day. Thanks for checking in, whoever you are and wherever you are.


Went up to Crookston today to play for the residents at the Villa St. Vincent assisted living. Most of the people were familiar. I have been up there several times, both at the nursing home and at the assisted living.

We had a good time. The residents were seated around several tables pushed together, so they were in sort of a semi-circle with me at the open end playing piano. That arrangement leant itself to questions and give-and-take. The people were knowledgable about music. The piano was a bit of a challenge since two or three vital keys simply didn't play. That can throw you off when you are in the middle of a piece. But otherwise, the big old upright piano was in good shape.

Mathilda Moe was there. Mathilda is mother to former state Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe. She inadvertently had her a big moment of fame about five years ago when Roger was about to announce his intentions in the governor's race. Some reporter from the Star Tribune got ahold of Mathilda two days of the scheduled announcement, and she said, goodness, I don't know why Roger's running, but I suppose that's what he wants to do...and other motherly comments which had the effect of spilling the beans before the actual announcement.

Even though Roger ended up losing to Tim Pawlenty, Mathilda's moment was the highlight of the campaign. She was over ninety at the time. She still looks great. Any time I speak in Crookston, she's right there, which is fun.

Today, Mathilda told me she is practicing picking out hymns on an organ which was recently donated to the Villa. She wants to learn to play by ear. She does wish she had started earlier, but no reason not to start now.

That's the spirit!

THIS EVENING, I ended up watching the Twins over at the home of my friends Cynthia and Grant. Cynthia is in fifth grade, and one of her big worries right now (besides her constant worry that her hero Joe Mauer might get injured again) is that Carlos Silva isn't trusting his sinker ball enough.

Mauer was designated hitter tonight while Mike Redmond relieved him at catcher. It took me a while to figure out why Cynthia was criticizing the catcher's calls on pitches. Every Toronto hit was Redmond's fault. Well, of course. It was because Joe Mauer wasn't catching. And he's perfect.

SPEAKING OF PERFECT, the weather today was grand. I think it barely got into the mid-sixties. Cloudy. I could put up with this for weeks. I don't like heat, unless I am inside in the air conditioning. But mid-sixties--that is heaven.

June 26, 2007

Good cop

Got stopped coming into Grand Forks this afternoon. I was cruising by the beet plant, and I meant to slow down, I really did, but I was doing 44 m.p.h. in a 30 m.p.h. zone.

The cop was about as polite as you could imagine. I groveled. I said I was off in la la land, daydreaming, and goodness knows how fast I was going, just do what you have to.

He asked when my last ticket was and I truly couldn't remember. When he checked, my record for the past ten years was clean. Wow! I wasn't aware that it had been that long.

So, I got a verbal warning. The cop showed me what the fine would have been. $132. Since I had told him I was going out for supper in Grand Forks, he said, "so, you'd better buy a round of drinks!"

June 25, 2007

Ma and cygnet

Woke up early this morning to see the swan family right in front of the house eating some of the fresh grass stems. No idea whether it is bromegrass or just what. The cygnets were gobbling with vigor. They have to. This time of year, they add an estimated 20% to their body weight each day.

The barnswallows nesting in the peak of my roof took exception to the swans hanging around their area of the pond. So, they were taking swoops at the swans.

The swans ignored the swallows in their usual stately manner. Eventually, one swan pulled loose a beautiful white feather while grooming. It floated perfectly atop the water--until a swallow swooped down and picked it up. At that speed, he couldn't hang on to the feather for long, but I thought it and interesting interchange nonetheless.


A weblog reader and grass expert corrects the caption I put on the picture below:

Sorry to report your picture of quack is not, in fact, quack. It is smooth bromegrass, a widely utilized introduced forage grass.

June 24, 2007

Leave it to the Chinese...

Last winter before I went to China, I saw a quote which said something to the effect that China has one billion people who don't follow instructions. That observation was borne out during our visit.

In that light, Cousin Roy, our host in China last winter, wrote tonight:

Yesterday I was stocking up at Carrefour (the supermarket). As I was slowly pushing my fairly full cart towards the cashier…all 57 registers were open and slowly….very slowly….functioning….I noticed that Carrefour had given up on the “Only 10 Items” lines. (I had remarked previously that the sign had no effect.) Now, wisely, they had changed the sign to “Baskets Only” and installed a barrier mounted in the concrete floor that restricted the width of the line. No way could you get a shopping cart through. This should work.

After so many years in China, I had, yet again, underestimated the Chinese. A woman with an overflowing shopping cart was trying to force her cart into the ”Baskets Only” lane. However, no matter how hard she pushed she couldn’t budge either the barrier or the check-in counter itself. No one seemed to pay any attention, neither customers nor Carrefour employees. I smiled.

But, not to be deterred, the woman summoned her husband and told him to push the counter aside. Heave. Heave. Heave. Heave. Finally…success! He had moved the counter just enough so that she could push her cart into the lane.

Sunday photo safari

With the busy season over at the nursery, I finally felt like going out and taking some photos as I usually do on Sunday afternoons during quieter times of the year.

On the prairie, thunderheads are our mountains.

Had to rush to catch ma pheasant and her three babies before they disappeared into the quack.

Speaking of quack, who said it isn't beautiful?

The crops are looking good, for those with farm backgrounds who have moved away.

Here is a wider view. The greens of June are unbeatable.

A little late

Man, I hate to be late for things. And yesterday, I was running late to a wedding for a former employee and daughter of faithful weblog readers and friends Chuck and Barb.

The wedding was down Highway 59, south of Detroit Lakes. I got off to a good start, but there was construction and an accident at the intersection of U. S. Highways 10 and 59. So, I ended up behind schedule.

I rushed down the highway as fast as I could without rousing the attention of law enforcement, and I pulled into the resort where the wedding was to be held right at three p.m.

Although there was a sign on the highway at a crucial turn which said "Wedding!" there was no sign at the resort, and no sign of a group of cars. But it was a big resort.

So, I went up to the front desk with the intention of asking where the wedding was. Much to my irritation, one of the resort guests was holding forth on her theory that people with Scandanavian surnames, those ending in "son," live longer. Her evidence? Look in the obituaries! The people with "son" at the end of their names always die at age 90 or higher.

Okay, whatever.

I interrupted and asked where the wedding was being held that I was now late for.

Oh, that was yesterday, the clerk said.


I had put the date on my calendar, but then I had set aside my invitation. When I mentioned to my mother that I was going to the wedding on Friday, she laughed and said, that's not Friday, that's Saturday! It would be just like me to show up a day early for a wedding, so we both got a laugh out of that.

Well, this time it was Mom who got mixed up.

The clerk hastened to add that the wedding party was getting ready for a pontoon ride out front of the lodge. I ran out on the deck in my khakis and polo shirt and waved, then ran down to the dock and greeted the newlyweds.

I graciously blamed my mother for the whole fiasco, handed the newly weds a card, greeted the father of the bride, who kindly offered for me to come along on the pontoon, an offer I had to decline due to my overly warm attire--and then I took off home.