Category Archives: Family

Bringing back Phil to manage my school board campaign

Alanna Oswald told me yesterday that she might not to vote for me because of all the posts in which I whine about having to campaign instead of writing about my Grandfather. She says my getting off the School Board might be the only way she gets to read that book.

Its a tough choice. I’d love to compare George Robb with his fellow Kansan, oil billionaire fifty times over, Charles Koch. My Grandfather was a rock ribbed Republican but Koch is making it his business to roll back not only Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society AND FDR’s New Deal BUT the trust busting reforms of Teddy Roosevelt. Koch truly wants to take America back 100 years to the Gilded Age and Jim Crow. Perhaps that explains the jarring video I saw the 82-year-old Koch along side our Era’s Stepin Fetchit Snoop Dogg. Koch is a lot more comfortable with a black idiot sidekick than a sober and brilliant Black President taxing his billions and restraining his pollution.

Hell, when I was exploring the Kansas State Historical Museums files on my Grandfather I got a peek at his old College scrapbook which gave a pretty strong hint that my then 21-year old Grandfather liked Teddy Roosevelt. He pasted in a flyer from Park College’s Teddy Roosevelt Club into the book the year the ex-president’s Bull Moose party challenged Wilson and Taft. It was probably Koch who talked right-wing talk show host, Glenn Beck, to denounce Teddy. Beck was regularly invited to attend Koch’s soirees to return America to the days of John C. Calhoun and State’s Rights.

But as tempting as it is for me to try to save America with a boring reminder of a more decent political past, my Grandfather also set another standard before me when he fought in the Great War. As the lyrics to one of his Era’s war songs put it “…and we won’t come back till its over, over there!” I’m afraid that my school board work is not over either.

My Grandfather’s war lasted about one year. Mine began 28 years ago (if not earlier) when I first ran an unsuccessful race for the Duluth School Board in 1989. That was two years after moving to our new home on 21st Ave E and my Daughter Keely’s request that I build a snow dinosaur. I was reminded of this a week ago when visitors asked if they could look at my scrapbook of a 30 year snow sculpting career.

Following my second failed attempt to run for the School Board I decided to make a not so subtle comment about the struggles of the Duluth Schools in 1991 in snow. The DNT’s head photog, Chuck Curtis, snapped a photo which made it to the Front Page if I remember correctly. A passerby with a camera took a photo of me sculpting it and sent it to me afterwards. Until the advent of cell phones Claudia and I got used to flashes coming through our drapes on winter nights from folks dropping by to take a picture of our front lawn to mail to their friends in warm weather states.

Like my Grandfather I conceived of my campaigns for the School Board like his Meuse-Argonne campaign. I ran a third time and lost that election as well. As a consolation Claudia gave me a small black figurine of a disconsolate Gorilla sitting chin on hand like the thinker for my birthday. That became my inspiration for yet another snow sculpture and perhaps an augury for a change in my political fortunes.

This sculpture was the first of a couple which made it to newspapers on the Associated Press circuit.

By now I had a name for my gorilla. Phil. It was prompted by yet another gift from Claudia which came with a card inspired by the cartoonist Gary Larson:

After christening Phil I decided to attach a story line to him. He became my “campaign manager” who couldn’t get me over the finish line. I pinned the blame on him in a letter I penned to the News Tribune. That’s in my scrapbook too and for school board wonks its a most interesting peek back at our school district’s history.

What I wrote is the gospel truth. In the 1987 school year (the year in which, by coincidence, I lost my teaching job) our school district reported that we had 1200 seniors. And yet only 775 seniors graduated. We were paid by the state of Minnesota to educate 425 students who seem to have vanished into thin air. It was school board counselors who told me to check the numbers and they were confirmed by an employee in the Minnesota Department of Education. Sadly, the MDE didn’t lift a finger to call the District on the carpet. It was a preview of how they would handle the preposterous financing proposed for the Red Plan.

Discovering that public school administrators would lie was as shocking to me as it was for Loren Martell to find himself handcuffed for addressing the Duluth School Board during the Red Plan. Its the sort of experience that turns concerned citizens into ever vigilant watchdogs. Its been my Meuse-Argonne ever since.

I thought I had left the School District in pretty good shape when I retired from the Board in 2004. Three years later, after the voters were denied a chance to vote on the half billion dollar Red Plan, I realized that if I could get elected again I could put the issue before the voters. I was prepared to offer a smaller plan should that referendum fail. Instead, the Dixon administration worked hand in hand with my critics to attack my motives and those of Gary Glass. In doing so school administrators passed on one more great lie – that Johnson Controls would earn no more than 4.5 percent of the building program’s cost. Throw in the wildly incorrect promise that the Red Plan would barely increase property taxes and you can see how my vigilance was rekindled.

The travesty of seeing my colleague Art Johnston raked over the coals has done little to restore my faith – especially after it become evident that 30% of Duluth’s eligible ISD 709 resident students have left us. Golly! We’ve got new half-billion dollar schools to fill up and maintain and we are not succeeding at either objective. I’ve got five months to make a case for shoring up our schools even while my Grandfather’s life story begs to be told.

This began as a light-hearted reintroduction of my old campaign manager, Phil. I’m bringing him back.

Phil has given me the idea to raise money for my campaign by selling snow sculpture trading card packs in lieu of political propaganda. Goodness knows I’ve taken lots of pictures of my creations over the years. Here’s the first page of my scrapbook’s Table of Contents:

I’m going to do things a little differently. Rather than ask for donations by mail this year I think I’m going to offer the trading cards in sets of five to help me recoup my expenses incurred to defend Art Johnston. That was because the school board used the excuse of a nonexistent assault to remove him from the Board. My Mother’s death left me with a modest inheritance that allowed me to give Art $20,000 to help defray the $75,000 legal charges Art incurred to defend himself from the vile accusations hurled at him, to wit:

“Racism” (He was a member of Duluth’s NCAAP Board for crying out loud)
“Conflict of Interest,” for sitting in on meetings affecting the employment of his school district employed partner. Nevermind, that a Red Plan supporting Board member sat in on similar meetings when a relative ran a school bus into a child – the relative was given a desk job!
“Violence” Who wouldn’t be mad after serving five years on the School Board while constantly denied public data and then discovering that the School Administrator who recruited your last opponent was now orchestrating a spy network to harass your partner starting on the very day you beat the candidate that said administrator encouraged to run against you?

$20,000 is almost all I “earned” over my first three years on the School Board. I spent just as much trying to get a Red Plan referendum on the ballot. Its been expensive to pay for the honor of serving the public.

So, if I print up trading cards, I’ll treat it as a small business and use the proceeds to pay for my campaign. Maybe I’ll break even on the cards and avoid going any deeper into the financial hole to stay on a school board that has finally calmed down from the insanity of 2014 to 2015. Calmed down yes, but we still need to get out from behind a $3.4 million dollar a year eight ball that costs us 36 teachers.

It may be hard for folks to take Phil seriously as my campaign manager so thank goodness my old rival, Representative Mike Jaros, has agreed to be my campaign chairman. He ran a dozen or more campaigns and never lost. Having only won three of 16 campaigns for public office myself, I am in awe of his record.

I just can’t wash my hands of Phil. He’s been the logo above my old webpage for almost twenty years now. Like me, Phil deserves a little respect.

Indian ghosts

I just keep adding more books to my reading list. The lastest is Killers of the Flower Moon. I’ve been catching reports on Public Radio for a presentation this week at the Fitzgerald Theater by its author David Grann.

The book is about the murders of Osage Indians which took place south of Kansas in Oklahoma about the time my Dad was born. I’ve never heard of them but I’ve always been fascinated by Oklahoma because of its eccentric ties to the South during the Civil War. When Andrew Jackson removed the Indians from the South in the winter of the Trail of Tears they took their African-American slaves with them. Ironically they had been civilized enough to adopt America’s slave tradition. When the Civil War broke out they looked at it as an opportunity to throw off Union control and sided with the same southerern slave holders that had removed them from the South.

The ex-slave Larry Lapsley, who had a farm next to my Grandfather after escaping from Texas had to travel at night through Oklahoma to avoid being caught by the slave owning Indians of the territory and being sent back.

My eight loyal readers know I’ve devoted a lot of space to Civil Rights in the blog tilted almost exclusively to African-Americans. However, I’ve never been in doubt about the treatment of Native Americans. I always wince on the Fourth of July when PBS reads the full Declaration of Independence and gets to this line about the wrongs of King George:

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Reading about this book opens up another haunting tie to my past. I’ve often written that when I was in sixth grade I was a minority white kid in Mr. Ross’s class although just barely. It was a 15/15 white/black split with one Native American kid added to make minorities of all of us. Sammy was an Osage Indian and new to Loman Hill Elementary so I really never got to know him since I moved to Minnesota at the end of my sixth grade year. He was a quiet kid.

White Kansas had a long history with both black and Indian populations. My Grandmother Ruth Welty’s great-grandparents were saved by a black woman, Black Ann Shatio, when they crossed over into Kansas from Missouri. (I just found this link today while looking for a reference from the Kansas Historical Society. Jerry Engler would be my shirt tail relative). Kansas also contributed a Vice President Charles Curtis to the United State. He was three quarters Native American. And of course my mother’s father, George Robb roamed around on land well traveled by Indians. A month ago I wrote that I had probably lost the arrowheads he collected on his farm in Assaria, Kansas, when I sent them off for a grandson’s show and tell. Hooray, they were rediscovered and returned. Here they are:

Vice President Curtis was one-quarter Osage and I can’t help but wonder if he makes an appearance in the Flower Moon although he was a Kansan not an Oklahoman. The Osage were one of the minor tribes who were moved to Oklahoma and you can see by this map of their reservation they lived adjacent to Kansas.

One of my Mother’s great-grandfather’s, Joseph Freemong McLatchey, lined up to race across the Oklahoma border in 1905 in hopes of claiming a piece of the territory only to find the land already occupied by “sooners.” He ruined his daughter’s prize horse in the attempt and remained in Kansas.

In the map above you can see where I was born – Arkansas City, Kansas. I remember hearing a local tell a “funny” story about the Oklahoma Indians after they struck oil on the once worthless land they imprisoned in. It seems one Osage, bought a car with his unexpected wealth and drove it around until it stopped moving a day or two later. Then he went out and bought another. He didn’t understand that cars needed gas.

According to the Flower Moon book the Osage’s white neighbors didn’t just make jokes about the Indians. They did their best to steal the oil for themselves by poisoning and shooting the unlucky Osage. Exposing these murders was the making of J Edgar Hoover’s FBI which uncovered 24 murders. Grann’s research suggests that this was just the tip of the iceberg. There may have been over a hundred. An Osage historian said that today there is hardly an Osage descendant that didn’t lose a relative to the murders of the 1920’s. I wonder if Sammy was quiet because he was haunted by ghosts.

I recently mentioned that one of my grandson’s had some Choctaw blood. They were another of the Native American tribes that were removed to Oklahoma.

life’s lessons

Yesterday morning my older grandson was giving his younger brother all sorts of grief. I reprimanded him and then showed him yesterday’s “Violet Days” cartoon by Duluth’s own Chris Monroe. It perfectly captured bullying in a way I thought my 9-year-old grandson could understand.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/589/31844493734_a3e4fc2075_z.jpg

I then told my grandson about how my hero Abe Lincoln’s behaved in his childhood. In his backwoods home kids got their kicks by putting fires on the backs of pokey little wood turtles. Such fun to watch them race away in a futile panic to escape the torture. Abe Lincoln couldn’t bear it and always rescued the turtles.

P.S. Ms. Monroe probably ran out of room because she left out the story about little Donny punching his second grade teacher in the face.

NOTE: Ms. Monroe kindly gave me permission to put her work in my blog. Thanks a lot Chris. You are a peach.

Getting a swim and a trim

One of the big 15 minutes stories of this summer’s Olympics was the black female swimmer who won gold. Unlike Gymnastics’s, Simone Byles, who won all of the gold and followed in the footsteps of another black Olympic gymnast the swimmer seemed was a first for her sport. There is a reason for this. Black cooties.

For all I know I just coined that phrase and if have I will have earned eternal damnation. Sorry, but I can’t think of a more accurate way to capture an essential truth of my growing up and America’s growing up. I picked up the unwritten understanding that there was something about black American’s skin that made it suspect. My Dad, a decent fellow, told me with certainty born of childhood experience that black people smell different. I disputed this with him but he was adamant so that I scrambled for a logical explanation. Dad grew up in hot Missouri and Kansas before the era of air conditioning. He encountered blacks mostly consigned to manual labor who perspired heavily on hot days. Because a lot of them lived in shacks propped up with cement blocks with limited plumbing it was a challenge for these hard working people to take America’s mandatory daily baths.

When I was growing up little white kids couldn’t help but wonder if dark skin could wash off. Why you had only to notice that the palms of their hands were as pink as ours. Surely this proved that blackness could be rubbed off.

I understand that a lot of black Americans are tired of the curiosity their physical differences provoke. I have written about the time I embarrassed my Mom by asking a black woman about those differences while we were riding a bus together. Even now white folks ask black folks if they can rub their hair. Just yesterday as I was pouring through Newspaper.com’s millions of pages of online newspapers I found a story while looking up info on my Dad’s uncle a Kansas legislator. In 1965 (the same year as the Voting Rights Act) a law was proposed in the sunflower state that would require barbers to offer haircuts to black customers. White barbers were up in arms and said things that are astounding to modern ears: From the Ottawa Herald of Feb 18, 1965, “’I don’t know if there is a barber in town who can cut their hair, It’s just like shearing a sheep,’ an Ottawa barber said.”

And consider full body immersion. I took my swimming lessons at a Howard Johnsons or Holiday Inn Motel until motel management told my Red Cross teacher that he had to stop letting black kids in the pool for lessons because their customers were complaining. To this day blacks learn to swim at a much lower rate and suffer a higher incidence of drowning. My niece’ swim club hit me up all through her high school years for donations to pay for minority children’s swimming lessons.

And it wasn’t just swimming pools that were off limits. It was the whole ocean. I stared hard at the beautiful white sand beaches on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast on a vacation with my family in the late sixties. It wasn’t just the sand that was all white. When Brown v Topeka Board of Education finally kicked in it meant that southern states set up state-supported all white “private” schools. Many still exist, with the occasional black student, and will soon be in line for more Federal money if President Trump’s Education nominee Betsy DeVos has her way with Federal Education dollars.

My Uncle Frank told me a little about black/white politics in the Topeka High of 1946 when he was the editor of the Sunflower, the school annual. One day several young black men stepped in the classroom to make demands of Miss Hunt the yearbook adviser. Frank’s chivalrous side took offense at the young men coming in force to confront the lone white female teacher. He didn’t see them as I imagine them, few in number (about 11 percent of the school population), and loathe to cause too much trouble lest their parents lose jobs. Whatever their demands black students had one card to play – Topeka High’s swimming pool. The white Topeka High kids wanted one.

When the school was being built years earlier a hole was dug in the basement for a swimming pool. At its excavation no one in Topeka imagined that black children would be sent to Topeka High the Capital City’s soon-to-be premier school. But Kansas passed a somewhat enlightened integration law. Elementary Schools would remain segregated but not the high schools. That put a stop to the pool and it remained a hole in the basement. For enlightened Topeka black and white kids sharing the same pool was a bridge too far.

While Frank’s friends were busy lobbying to finish the pool Topeka High’s black students enjoyed a sort of veto power. They would have to live with whatever rules were put into place to run the pool after its completion. As it was there were separate clubs, dances and even sports for black and white students. The embassy to Miss Hunt was some sort of negotiation to improve the conditions of the black students. Give us what we want and will let you have your “separate but equal” pool.

The plan for using the new swimming pool went something like this: On Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays white kids could use it. On Friday black kids could use it. In between, on Thursdays and weekends, the pool would be drained and refilled to make sure the black cooties didn’t contaminate the pool for the white kids and presumably vice versa.

You could get those cooties in every close contact. The Hay’s, Kansas, newspaper reported in 1964 that a barber refused to cut the hair of a black professor. Next to it was a story about George Wallace who was testing the waters in the North for his 1964 Presidential run. Reporting from Ohio the story said, “Alabama’s Gov. George C. Wallace bragged that he had found many persons ‘of Southern attitude’ in his trips around the nation. He said in Columbus, Ohio, that his reception there was ‘…more warm and courteous than we expected.’”

I’m not surprised. Midwesterners are unfailingly open. The American Nazi Party’s head, George Lincoln Rockwell, made a speech at my Dad’s college, Mankato State, in 1967, a few months before a disgruntled fellow Nazi assassinated him. My Dad came home with a sour attitude afterward because a student told him he was impressed. You see, Rockwell had told the students to go to their kitchen cabinets and look for items labeled “Kosher.” He assured them they were a sure sign of the imminent take over of the world by the Jews. The student told my Dad that he had done just as instructed and, by golly, Rockwell was right!

Changing the water in a swimming pool because black people swam there? For crying out loud! At Mankato High the only time they drained the pool was when a classmate of mine thought it would be funny to take a dump in the pool. He was a white kid!

Sticks and Stones, Pt. 3 washing my mouth out with soap

My Buddy accuses me of being prissy when I complain about his emails. Well, I just want to assure my readers that my family doesn’t consider me so. In fact, I wrote a lengthy goodbye letter to my Uncle Frank in which I spent a lot of time talking about his older brother, my Father, who died 30 years ago at the tender age of 62 which I’ve already surpassed by four years.

I wrote and sent the letter when I was under the impression Uncle Frank was unwilling to have family pay a call on him before he went to the great beyond. So, I wanted to tell him about how his brother’s oldest son, me, saw Daniel Welty. I included a several paragraph description of Dad’s cussing:

After my college years, I learned about one of Dad’s tactics for a good defense – swearing. I’ve already mentioned his invocation of blue beard in the face of detour signs. Well, in about fifth grade I took up some pretty serious swearing thus honoring my Father by imitation. This continued until I skinned my knee in the alley behind Mulvane while walking home with Mom. I kicked up such a torrent of wretchedness that Mom was terribly embarrassed. All our neighbors rushed to their fences to see who had just died. That night Dad told me the secret to swearing. Only swear when you want people to know you mean it because if you do it too promiscuously no one will ever pay attention to you.

What I didn’t know was that Dad did not always adhere to his own good advice. When I was a Phi Delt pledge a rotund active, Denny, who promised to hook me up with girls who would do anything I wanted, asked me confidentially if my Dad “talked like that at home?” While I declined his offer of female companionship I did ask Denny what he meant by Dad’s talking at home.

Denny exclaimed, “Does he swear like that at home?”

“Yes,” I affirmed.

It turned out that there were a lot of football players and jocks in Dad’s Business Law classes and Dad felt that a healthy blast of profanity would keep them from challenging him. I never quite understood this but college profs are a different breed. One of Mankato State’s Psych professors went to our little Congregational church. Dad told me that Professor Kansler pulled down his pants in class to reveal polka dotted briefs. He followed this gymnastics by chanting the “ef” word repeatedly for a couple minutes “to teach the class about desensitization.” I kinda wish I’d been there to witness this spectacle but Dad offered me plenty of his own layman’s psychology – at no charge – to help me make my way in the world.

It turns out that my family is right. My example has not always been the best. My cousin told me how I got her in trouble on a visit to Colorado. Apparently she picked up some of my new and unfamiliar vocabulary and tried it out at home. She got what for and said my embarassed Dad had to take me to a room and do the same. Except that no one could hear me getting what for.

I had to admit to my cousin that I couldn’t recall this family trauma. Had I gotten a good what-foring I’m sure I would have remembered. I did tell her, however, that I remembered my Mother washing my mouth out with soap when I was a first grader. I’m sure I picked up my vocabulary just like the kid did in Jean Shepherd’s Christmas Story.

Like a lot of free advice my Dad’s advice on cussing was sound – even if he didn’t practice it as faithfully as he could have. Ditto for me. And by the way those recent studies that suggest intelligent people swear more…….I regard them with a healthy skepticism.

MY most enjoyable MSBA convention ends

The image below helps cleanse Lincolndemocrat after the previous post.

I jotted down titles for about ten posts I wanted to write through the School Board conference which ended at noon on Friday. It remains to be seen if I will get around to any of them. I snapped this pic of our key note speaker, retired Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Alan Page.

Thirty years ago he also spoke to the MSBA Conference. That was 1987 which was a pivotal year for me. I was sacked from my last teaching job. We moved to our current address. I made my first “public” snow sculpture. I began thinking seriously about running for the school board. I told my Father this in his last few days of life just after telling him I’d lost my third teaching job then “softening” this with the preposterous notion that I was thinking about running for the school board. It was a futile attempt to cheer up a dying man whose oldest son had just been fired for the third time in a short, disastrous teaching career. He told me solemly that he wondered if I had “will to fail” which broke my heart and caused me many years of deep self reflection. Then my Dad died during one of the most beautiful autumns I’ve ever experienced. My Dad used to pile us into the car to visit Hiawatha and Olathe, Kansas, to marvel at the sugar maples turning red.

I used to watch Alan Page with my Dad but only in the playoffs where the “Purple People Eaters” couldn’t quite lift the Vike’s to a Superbowl victory in four attempts. As a college kid I was aware that Alan Page and the other Vikes drank at Mankato’s downtown bars where my future mother-in-law met and dated one of the coach’s who were using the state college’s facilities to train in the pre-season. Page was famous for carrying a huge purse like bag over his shoulders to the bars. Trust me, no one made fun of a people eater wearing a purse. Besides it was the “Age of Aquarius.”

I love to tell people that I threw a glass of water on Page. Then I explain:

The first time I ran across Page was at one of the earliest Grandma Marathons while Page was still a Viking. Claudia and were out near the Northshore mostly oblivious of the tiny new Marathon’s progress when we drove past a table on Hwy 61 just out of Duluth. We had already noticed other such tables on London Road loaded with water-filled cups for the Marathoners. No one was manning the table as a couple of runners were jogging up in the distance. For the heck of it we pulled over to hand the cups to the stragglers. One of them was Page who was running against the wishes of the coaches who didn’t want him running off any of his massive tackling poundage. As I lifted a cup to him he said, “throw it on me.” I didn’t argue.

Page read a thoughtful, sober-minded speech about his growing up in the shadow of the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, with no childhood thoughts of a football career. Instead, Page, a 70-year-old like Donald Trump, recalled the impact of Brown vs. Board of Education on him as a black kid. (a frequent subject of this blog) Page told anyone who asked him that he intended to be a lawyer. (He probably has pre-law books in the handbag he took into Mankato’s bars)

During training camps his coaches did their best to “educate” their rookies by requiring them to the NFL playbook together. Justice Page told us that the hardest words in these book were “tackle,” “defense,” and “offense.” He recalled how six of the ten recent college graduates on the team struggled. It left Page to ponder their betrayal by an educational system that insured them a poor future after their star turn in the NFL.

Page also mentioned his thirty year old educational foundation which has spent $13 million to get struggling kids to and through college. In thirty years its helped 6000 kids.

He said he was distressed by America’s turn to Trump and alluded to the Trump Empire’s long legal fight to keep its apartments segregated in the good old days. Page is building bridges while Trump is building walls.

Manchurian Candidate

My daughter Facebooked me to tell me that she (young as she is) knows what the Manchurian Candidate is. For those who haven’t heard of it it was a movie based on a book. The plot was about how communists North Koreans had brainwashed an American POW to assasinate an American politician. Its appearance in theaters ironically and infamously coincided with the assassination of JFK.

I haven’t seen the recent remake. Sinatra’s version was good enough for me.

Coincidentally, PBS aired a two-hour American Experience tonight on the fighting at Korea’s Chosin Reservoir and the perilous, frozen escape of American soldiers surrounded by tens of thousands of Chinese troops. Some of the first American POWs came from that fighting.

My Uncle, Frank, was in a MASH unit during the war. I know virtually nothing about his actions but I know he helped a Korean from his camp immigrate to the US after the war. I wrote about Frank once for the Reader in an anecdote about Grandfather. Its one of my favorite family stories.

Frank must be about 88 now. I had originally intended to travel on to Colorado after visiting Topeka, Kansas, next week and ask him about my Dad’s side of the family in much the same way that I’m researching my Mother’s side now. I decided against it because he lives at 8,000 feet and winter is coming. I’ll come back for the next school board meeting instead. Maybe I’ll try Colorado next spring.

After watching the program I ordered the third book in a trilogy. I collected the first two of the books better than a decade ago but never read them. Maybe its about time I do. Its about the “Forgotten War.”

After my post on the Manchurian Candidate I got an email from my Buddy and we proceeded to have a testy exchange. My characterization of FBI Director James Comey as worse than a “communist dupe” struck my Buddy as “unhinged.” Nevermind that Presidential candidate Trump – the butt of my exageration, has said far worse about a great many other people on television over and over for the last year. Nevermind that he leads his audiences in inflamatory chants of “lock her up. lock her up.” No, its me that’s unhinged.

I could have confessed to being a tad excessive to my Buddy but I didn’t feel like it. He had just sent me a story about how the lastest polls show Trump up over Clinton by a point and I’d just been stewing about Comey and the part he may have played in this last rough week for my preferred candidate Clinton. I thought he was trying to goad me so I let myself be goaded. It never pays off.

As a bit of a concession I sent him a commentary that was anything but unhinged in finding fault with Comey. My Buddy made no reference to it when he sent me another snappish email.

What is indisputable is that Vladimir Putin would love to see American politics lose its lustre for the rest of the world even if it means that an unpredictable narcisist takes the reigns of power perhaps as disasterously as when Trump plunged his Atlantic City Casinos into bankruptcy. Putin would have the office once presided over by Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Lincoln, the Roosevelts and Ronald Reagan handed to a man who flushed Reagan’s “eleventh commandment” down the commode. In other words, Putin wants a lying, uninformed, lucky, idiot billionaire to be America’s next president. My Buddy reminds me incessantly that standard issue Presidents, like he’s sure Hillary will be, got us into the Vietnam War. How could Trump be any worse? he asks. I only write back to him out of sheer cussedness.

Hemingway said that courage is “grace under pressure.” Perhaps mine failed me. Ironically, Comey’s dubious last-minute, non revelation has been defended by none other than President Obama. I doubt that my Buddy will give him credit for being more rational than me even though Obama is busting a gut to get Hillary Clinton elected. My Buddy twitted me a few years back about how Obama was treated as the “Messiah” by his early adoring fans and how he let them down by not providing them utopia. I keep reminding by Buddy that from a minute Obama was elected Republicans made it clear their only real priority was to make sure he was a one-term president. They didn’t dare let America be run well for the next four years if they hoped to depose him. The result eight years later a is Donald Trump now the titular head of the Party of Lincoln. And who can forget his constant threats and taunts to his fellow Republicans. That’s what six years of Republican gridlock got America. If Trump is not a Manchurian candidate I don’t know what the hell he is.

By the way, an hour ago I had to run to Wallgreens and get a fresh 9 cell to stop a fire alarm from shreeking at me every twenty seconds. My Manchurian Candidate sign was still standing. I give it fifty/fifty odds of making it through the night.

Gorden Parks – a Remembrance

The news is as full of Muhammed Ali’s death today as it was three weeks ago of the drug overdose death of Prince. Today another seminal black American died, Gordon Parks.

My father recommended his 1966 autobiography to me when I was in high school. Civil Rights had been in the air since I started school in Brown vs. Board of Education’s Topeka, Kansas in the fall of 1956. The Court decision preceded my enrollment into first grade by two years and involved the Monroe School that my Grandmother Welty had attended as a child, albeit in a new building that had replaced her fire damaged elementary school. (What I’ve just written seems to be called into question by this official National Historic Site website)

Parks’ book was one of several I read in High School on the issue of race including the novelized treatment of the Nat Turner slave revolt Confessions and Black Like Me about a white journalist who disguised himself as a black man and hitchhiked across the deep south. I really enjoyed A Choice of Weapons.

I immediately identified with Parks. He had been raised in Kansas like me and found himself transplanted to Minnesota, again just like me. He became an acclaimed photographer for Life Magazine and in my college years produced the first blaxploitation film Shaft.

Parks was as proper as Ali was ornery thus the choice of his Book Title. His weapon was the camera recording its truths.

The beginning of his autobiography pulled me in immediately. He vividly recalled his Kansas youth and swimming with friends at a local stream in the summer sun……as I recall the scene. He’s perhaps ten. Some police come around and ask him and his friends to help them search for a body up stream. A drowned man is suspected of being under the water and the police don’t want to do the grubby work of finding it but the black kids are handy. Parks and his friends find the body. It was a little traumatizing but that was OK. They were just little colored kids.

What a small world it is. I just looked for that scene with a Google Search. It led me to the name Wing Young Huie a Duluth born, Minnesota photographer who wrote the Introduction to the more recent edition of Park’s Book. I went to a Tweed Museum exhibition a few years ago of Huie’s work. I was particularly keen to visit it because a decade ago my sister asked him to shoot pictures of my Mother a few months before she was placed in a 24 hour memory care residence.

Mr. Huie took quite a lot of pictures and gave them to my sister at no charge. I’ve wanted to write a coffee table book about Mom and her desire to be an artist since Alzheimers stole her away. Here’s the tentative frontpiece I imagined:

The title comes from a college art teacher who discouraged her from attempting abstract art because he didn’t think she had a talent for it.

The larger painting behind her in the photo now hangs in our living room. Here’s a better look:

My Dad’s Obituary

I began writing this a week ago. Might as well post it.

To wrap up the last little bit of my Mother’s estate I was advised by our attorney that he needed two items that would prove that my Father had died. I had neither his death certificate or his obituary.

Dad died 28 years ago just shy of his sixty-second birthday. That period of time was something of a bookend to the times I’m in now. We had just purchased a new home on 21st Ave East and moved in when my Father was failing and had no way to come up and take a look at it. I rented a VHS camcorder and had the family walk around our soon-to-be new home that summer so we could give him a video tour. VHS tapes have about a twenty year life and I haven’t seen that one since we made it. I wonder if it still exists?

At the same time I was trying to recover from having lost my third teaching job. That was a trifecta, lost job, dying father, new house. Two years ago, I was interviewed by the Trib’s education reporter as part of her coverage of the 2013 school board election and reflected on that time. I brought myself to tears thinking about the time, just before his passing, that my Dad told me he thought I had a will to fail. God, I hated to see him die thinking his oldest son was a failure.

I put in a call to Blue Earth County to ask that they send me the death certificate – cost $13, and the Mankato Public Library asking that their reference desk send me a copy of my father’s obituary. I had a bit of trouble understanding the librarian but I left the conversation fairly certain that they would email me the obituary, now on microfilm.

As I lay in bed this morning stewing about how to write the next Martyrdom (MAJ) column I got thinking back on the obituary I was trying to retrieve. I am a collector of such things and I didn’t seem to have it. That got me wondering if it had ever been written. I would have been the likely writer but I couldn’t recall writing it even though I was in Mankato at the time of my Father’s death.

I do have a vivid memory of writing a funeral oration for my Dad. The year before my Father had written a memory of his Mother’s life for her memorial service. I wanted to do something similar. I think I referred to that in a recent post, my staying up late cranking it out on a Mac Computer in the College’s library only to have the computer crash at about ten O’Clock as the library closed. But I don’t remember writing an obituary.

At my parent’s grave site last weekend I offered a similar but extemporaneous eulogy for my Mother. I had been thinking about what to say for a couple days. It contained many elements of things I’ve posted over the past years. The chief job was mentally editing it down to about twenty minutes and not missing any of the key junctures in her life that I thought her small circle of friends might like to know about. I told them I’m thinking about putting a small book of her life anecdotes and art work. That would be a more fulsome project. But what about Dad’s obituary?

I wrote more but this as good a place to end as any for now.

Ladysmith Black Mombazo

I was listening to an interesting story on NPR this morning about America’s first elephant. It came from the creator of The Memory Palace. I thought it reminded me greatly of This American Life and The Moth both sites devoted to story telling. That is what the historian in me is drawn to……stories.

While I was sculpting yesterday I had occasion to tell a story to tell one to one of the passerbys who mentioned that she had brought the famed South African Musical group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, past my house on their winter visit to Duluth a few years ago.

Sorry, this story will have to wait until after church and after I finish emptying my attic for tomorrow’s beginning of its metamorphosis into my new office.

I asked the passerby if she had taken the choir out to take a picture by my sculpture and she said I had to be kidding. There was no way these Africans were going to get out in our cold but she said they were impressed with the sculpture. She couldn’t recall which sculpture it was. I told her I had gone to this performance at Sacred Heart Church myself. I had to because of one particular family story but it didn’t hurt that Sacred Heart is Dr. Ahs’s baby. We stayed at his Danish summer home one year a decade ago and he is also, coincidentally, the expert in a malady which once nearly killed Claudia. I’d told the story about Ladysmith, South Africa, to my daughter when she was just in kindergarten and as a result she named her first gold fish “Ladysmith.”

I’ve apparently mentioned my Mother’s paternal Grandfather Thomas Robb three times in Lincolndemocrat. As a twelve year old boy he sailed with his family from Ireland to settle in the United States. As his ship approached New York Harbor in 1860 on his voyage another ship passed them heading out of the harbor. It was hailed with the question asking for the latest news. “South Carolina has just seceded from the Union” was the reply.

Thomas grew up in Pennsylvania and as a young married man made up his mind to start a farm near the railroad by Salina, Kansas. He was a poor farmer but he was a lover of Great Britain. He subscribed to the London Times which was delivered and devoured by his family in the middle of the Kansas nowhere that you will remember from the Wizard of Oz.

In 1900 England got mired in South Africa fighting the Boers. The Boer War is often called Britain version of America’s Vietnam. The family got particularly enraptured with the stories about a small town with a British unit in it that was surrounded by the Boers who laid siege to the town. The Times coverage of events was breathless and the family waited for each new London Times and the latest report on the siege steadfastly cheering the British on. During the siege their milk cow had a calf which the family named Ladysmith in honor of the defense of the City.

One day as the the siege went on their father took a short trip away from the farm. When he returned all of his children rushed out to greet him crying “Ladysmith has fallen, Ladysmith has fallen.” Thomas Robb was furious. The Boers had bested the brave British and he was not to be mollified. Suddenly all the children burst out laughing. Ladysmith the calf had fallen into the pit the family stored their winter ice in to keep their food from spoiling through the summer.

BTW – I took a pilgrimage to my Great Grandfather’s home in Assaria, Kansas eleven years ago and took pictures of what remained of the homestead. This uninspired root cellar may have been Ladysmith’s landing pad.

The GOP’s business…

…is not a lady’s business. Apparently:

This morning, Democrats tore into House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) for preventing women from testifying before a hearing examining the Obama administration’s new regulation requiring employers and insurers to provide contraception coverage to their employees.

Some of these old misogynists ought to be paying more attention to their base in Mississippi.

Some random thoughts on Rush Limbaugh’s culture wars

Look at the graph below about teen pregnancy in the US.

I have a number of thoughts in reaction to it which I don’t have time to develop into a long blog post. Among them:

A. Teen parents are far more likely to be incompetent parents.
B. Their children are far more likely to do poorly in school and life.
C. As a result they will probably help drive America’s high costs of dealing with dysfunctional members of society while denying us more productive (high tax paying) members of society.
D. The political fight to lay the blame for our high rates of pregnancy has prevented us from adopting a successful preventative.

The liberal answer would be to follow the secular European model of offering frank sex ed., contraception, abortion and the recognition that wherever people have functioning genitals they will have babies.

OR

The conserative answer – a religiously repressive model like in many Islamic nations of strict sex segregation and severe penalties for non approved sex.

I’ll stop with D but I’m sure I could add a lot more alphabet. I’ll simply end with this question. Which political party seems better poised to deal with the fact that 95% of Americans engage in premarital sex – the “liberal” one or the “conservative” one?

Where are all the girls…

Dr. Science weighs in:

It’s often said that humans are the only creatures who know they’re going to die, but I think it’s more important that we’re the only ones who know we’re going to get old, too old to find all our own food. When other creatures — even other apes — get too old to feed themselves consistently, they die. Animals have no old age in our sense, because every adult is self-supporting: if you get too old to take care of yourself, that’s pretty much it.

Papaw

Maybe its because I’ve just woken up from a glorious six hours sleep and maybe its because a week of racing around left me with a hoarse croaking voice last night as my fellow LDVer’s peppered me with questions at our Let Duluth Vote meeting but I feel very reflective this morning as I wait for the rest of my family to wake up.

At 6:10AM yesterday (After a fitful three and a half hour sleep) I woke to a persistent knocking on my foot and a soft insistent voice calling “Wake up Papaw”. My only grandchild was getting me out of bed. I’d been scheduled to be his babysitter for yesterday and today for a couple weeks and no matter how much LDV and personal business (of which there has been a helluva lot lately involving an entirely different set of lawyers and courts) had to be attended to I was going to devote my time to him.

The Tan Man is a couple months shy of two and already he speaks in four word sentences which puts him ahead of the class. I’d like to think his genius comes from superior genes but I know it mostly comes from having three very well educated and attentive adults around him. This is what’s missing from the Red Plan. Duluth is exchanging teachers for brick and mortar. The five million in so called annual savings is little more than the equivalent permanent layoff of fifty teachers. When we had twice as many teachers this might not have been significant but as we continue to shrink this is an alarming number.

My Dad wasn’t the first Papaw. That’s what he’d called his Mother’s grandfather and when my children were born that’s what he wanted them to call him even though that term of enderment had skipped a generation and I didn’t grow up with it. Dad died when my children were little but my daughter insisted that I be a Papaw too.

I played with Tan Man for six straight hours until I put him in his crib for a nap at 2PM. We watched a Thomas the Tank Engine because he loves trains and I took him to Canal Park as the sun warmed up the cold June morning. We tarried under the fully blooming apple trees by the Dairy Queen spending an hour picking up handfuls of white petals which had fallen copiously in the wind and through them repeatedly into the air like little blizzards. We walked into the clear where all of Duluth’s downtown looked down at us and I called the Tan Man’s grandmother from my cell phone. We waved at her window from Canal Park and asked if she’d like to have us join her for work.

We looked out through her window after lunch and saw an ore boat chugging through Lake Superior heading towards Canal Park and its rendezvous with the Ariel Lift Bridge. We’d been waiting to show the Tan Man this sight for months but the Shipping News always listed boats passing through at inconvenient times.

The Tan Man and I sped over to watch while I imitated the sound of the two whistles, the boat’s and the bridge’s, many times before I finally propped him up on the pier to watch the great ship silently pass under the lifted span. Like hundreds of other visitors to the Canal we waved at the crew. After the great horns sounded and the ship glided into the bay we strolled under the bridge as it rang out a warning and its span began its descent. We looked up through the span’s gtates and watched the sillouette of cars pass overhead on their way between the worlds longest fresh water sand island and downtown Duluth.

We walked over the bridge my holding hands tight where no railings guarded my speedy grandson from tripping into the oncoming traffic. I took off his shoes and socks and let him feel the terrible cold water soak into his toes. We skipped stones and played in the sand for an hour. It was delightful.

My Father and Mother used to visit us in Duluth several times a year and in the summer months we always took them to the canal where my Dad loved watching the boats come in and out. It always seemed a wonder to my Midwestern Dad, a WW II sailor, to have ocean traffic coursing through the center of the United States just a couple hours north of his home in Mankato, Minnesota.

Yesterday morning my Dad paid us one last call.

We’re not all in this (neighborhood) together

I just read this Wash Post story that was reprinted in the DNT yesterday. Its one more bit of evidence of the division of our nation into rich and poor. Now it seems that middle class suburbs – the kind that baby boomers all remember from their youth – are disappearing. Those of us who are being sheltered by Republicans from the dreaded “death tax” are all moving behind gated barriers to exclusive neighborhoods. Those remaining in the middle class have to decide if and when they can jump accross an ever growing abyss to keep up with the quickly retreating Jones and while leaving the title loan and lotto dependent poor behind.