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Archive for October, 2017

The Gales of November

“‚ÄčDoes any one know where the love of God goes, when the waves turn the minutes to hours?” ~ Gordon Lightfoot

The gales of November came early this year, turning Lake Superior into an angry ocean, with breakers reaching two stories high and causing damage up and down the coastline. They also came early on October 9, 1927, when the mighty lake claimed my grandfather and two of his friends, who were trying to launch a small fishing boat while at a family picnic at a friend’s cottage. Although the wind probably wasn’t quite as strong as the November gales, the waves were making the launch difficult, and an especially large one swamped the boat, tipping it over.  Hampered by heavy wool clothing and coupled with a strong undertow, the men didn’t stand a chance.  According to the newspaper articles and the Coast Guard’s log book, they drowned in front of their families and in four feet of water. The descendents of these long-ago friends gathered at this small cottage, named Camp Wasa after the owner’s home in Finland. Strangely enough, it remains in the same family after all these years, and I am thankful for the kindness of this family  who shared it with us for a special afternoon. Even stranger is the fact that the cottage remains in unrestored condition, right down to the furniture, the outhouse, and the log book which contains a hand-written account of the tragedy. As I toured the small camp, I imagined my grandfather drinking coffee at the table and my grandmother with my two-year-old mother on her hip, putting the finishing touches on a picnic lunch. I touched a lot of objects that afternoon, for some reason needing to feel the same things that perhaps he touched all those years ago.  Nine children were left fatherless that day, and although my mother had few, if any, memories of her father, she never quite forgave him for getting in that boat.  Ninety years later,  we remembered them, at exactly the same time and in the same place.  I wondered why they even attempted to go fishing that day. As someone rang a bell rang three times and a bagpiper played “Going Home”,  I watched the waves crash upon shore and pulled my jacket tightly around me, feeling chilled to the bone.  Even though the weather was sunny, the wind was probably every bit as cold as it was that day. Lake Superior takes a bit of the land  back every year,  so the sandy beach was probably a lot larger then.   I pictured those nine carefree children playing in the sand under their mothers’ watchful eyes, neither children nor mothers imagining  what was ahead. The elderly owner, looking out  over the water and then at his deck and stairs, wondered aloud if they would be standing after November. Even Camp Wasa might be taken someday, he said, half to himself. He knows Superior and her gales, and we heard later that the storms of a week ago took the deck, stairs, and roof of the cottage. We tossed flowers into the waves that day, some of us bundled up, some of us  barefoot in the cold sand. Those waves of ninety years ago turned the minutes to hours to years to generations, and yet, in the grand scheme of things,  it was just in the blink of an eye. I would like to think that those three young men were with us that October day, perhaps sad at what they missed, but happy that we remembered them. 

In memory of William Holm, Lennert Villberg, and Alfred Westerlund 

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Creepy Crawlers

A lot of you are dreading the end of a beautiful Minnesota fall and the beginning of a long (hopefully not too long ) winter. For the first time, I am ready for it. I don’t hate the snow and cold, but I don’t love it, either. What I am most looking forward to is the freezing demise of all the Japanese beetles and flies around here. There are a gazillion of them, and I am not kidding. At first there were just a few beetles  around the doors of my breezeway, which I might mention was rebuilt tight as a drum a few years ago, so we have no earthly idea how they are getting in.  Those few were easily shooed outside and the remaining orange menaces were sucked up into the vacuum cleaner. Then the flies came, accompanied by more of  their beetle friends, and they all decided that  my home would be the place for their last hurrah. Both species seem to be at the end of their life cycle, sluggishly crawling over the walls and windows, and then, well, for lack of a better explanation, they drop like flies. Every day, I sweep up the dead and dying from under the windows as well as from all the windowsills. I read somewhere that some scientific genius imported the beetles from Japan as a predator to a pest of the soybean crop. Once the soybeans are harvested, the beetles have nowhere to go except here. The flies have always been around, but it is time to roll up the welcome mat. Of course, with my usual luck, we have had company. Each day, I casually swept up the flies and beetles from around their feet, apologizing and somewhat embarrassed, as if it were my fault.  Today, as I cooked the last of the fall tomatoes because the fruit flies have arrived to join the party, I felt a crawling sensation up the middle of my back. You guessed it…a Japanese beetle, most likely planning revenge for all of his little buddies that I vacuumed up this week. Hurry up, winter! Even though it is not yet Halloween, I’m ready for these black and orange creepy crawlers to be gone!

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Superhero Grandma

There is an unfinished portrait of me that hangs in our dining room. It was painted by my father, who was a great dad  but definitely not a great portrait artist. I have written of this angry-looking alien baby before, and would never have mentioned her ever again, if it weren’t for my four-year-old grandson Max. Max has been having some bad dreams  lately. Pretty typical for that age, but not fun. One would think this scary-looking portrait that hangs on my wall as a joke would be the stuff that nightmares were made of, but once I told him it was me, Max began to laugh. Every time he looked, he laughed some more. I told him that the scary baby was really a Superhero Grandma, and she could really kick some butt. Four-year-old boys like superheroes, and they also like words such as “butt” and “poopy head”, which he quickly learned is not an appropriate name to call someone at day care. Grandmothers really are superheroes, you know.  One of mine was a widow with three young  children who managed to feed and clothe them during the depression years by cleaning and taking in other people’s  laundry. My grandfather had a life insurance policy but cashed it in two weeks before he died to buy a new furnace for their home. My other grandmother raised five sons, which should elevate her to superhero status without a word being mentioned about how they moved every few years to follow my grandfather’s work. I have few hardships, unlike those strong women before me, but I can change into a Superhero Grandma when help is needed.  I mixed a few kid-safe essential oils with water in a spray bottle and labelled it “Happy Dreams Spray”.  I hope it works. If not, I will pound a nail into the wall of  Max’s bedroom and hang that portrait over his bed. That baby is scary enough to chase away even the worst bad dreams.

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The Ladies’ Room

I didn’t think I would have time to write a story this week. Between work, travel, reunions, and a wedding, it has been hard to find the time to write something witty, thought-provoking, or even mediocre. Writing is harder than you might think, and sometimes my own inspiration comes from the oddest things. BATHROOMS would be the perfect example. After the usual “hurry up and wait” business of travelling by air, the flight crew tempts everyone with a variety of beverages in a plane that holds 185 people and two small bathrooms. You can do the math here. They don’t let you stand and wait in the aisle anymore either, so it is every woman for herself. Even if you had a snowball’s chance in Florida of getting in, who would really want to? You can barely turn around, much less be seated. About the time you get in, the turbulence starts, and you always wonder what is happening out there. I waited. So did 125 other club- soda-with-lime sipping ladies. I waited when we got off the plane,  holding the carry on baggage. HE used the men’s room, while I eyed the 10 women in line next door. We hiked to the next one, and there were 15 in line for a 10 stall ladies’ room. The men’s room had no line, of course. We waited. And waited. Rumor from the front of the line described the same conditions down the concourse. A desparate sounding voice came from somewhere behind me: “Please, ladies, I’ve got to go now!” Poor thing is probably one who carries a water bottle with her all the time and hydrates. I would have been more sympathetic, but had three minutes to board my next flight. We rushed over to our gate, only to find out that the flight had been delayed. HE wandered off to find something to drink. Not me. I can wait as long as it takes, even if it is all the way home to Minnesota. 

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