Category Archives: Harry Welty

The Big Short

I put this movie in my memory bank over the last year when some economic analyst on NPR gave it a big thumbs up. Last night I saw that it was available on Netflix and Claudia and I watched it. It was Economics made fun and every bit as disgusting as a Zombie Apocalypse movie.

The Housing meltdown roughly coincided with the start up of the Red Plan and its purveyors shared many similarities to the get off scott-free, big money folks who pushed replacing almost all our facilities at a single stroke. They got rich and left the District to draw down its reserves, cut teachers, and compound it all by sucking millions of dollars annually out of our local tax levies in the General Fund to pay off Red Plan borrowing. Their supporters herd-like thinking reminded me of the people in the Big Short who stood back in disbelief as investment bankers cost six million Americans to lose their homes.

I’ve mentioned this before but that meltdown was part of the reason I had a heckuva time fighting the Red Plan. My family got caught up in the housing mania and a massive loan was taken out on my Mother’s house even though it was only a decade away from being paid off in full with very modest house payments. I’ve recently patched up my differences with the family members who lost that house and left me to spend months and months trying to get City Bank and Wells Fargo to let us short sell the house at a loss (for the banks) who eagerly permitted the misguided loan to go through. Our “short sale” took my brother and me months of calling the banks daily to find a human behind a phone. It was all I could do to find time for two simultaneous battles. When the sale neared completion and I finally pulled out of the Red Plan fight I took a vacation with Claudia. I faxed the last papers to the bank while traveling through, Lincoln, Nebraska, on our way to the Colorado Plateau. I was desperate to get out of town. I was so worn out that I got violently ill at the Grand Canyon. One morning Claudia heard an elk bugling outside our cabin and she thought it was me in my deaths throes. That’s what you get for burning your candle at two ends.

This post needs a good editing but that can wait. Claudia and I are going out to see Hidden Figures. That should be a good film too.

Editing is now complete…….

Hidden Figures is great.

Your word is /ôr?THä?r?f?/

For better than ten, perhaps fifteen years I was the pronouncer at our regional Scripps Howard Spelling Bee. I have mentioned spelling bees and my experiences with them in about a dozen previous posts over the last ten years.

The subject of the last half of John Ramos’s Reader Column this week concerns an unhappy experience his son suffered during the bee held at their school. His concerns ended up in my District email inbox last week and I sent Mr. Ramos a reply that attempted to put things in perspective and console him. From the conclusion of his column I gather I was not the only school board member to reply to his complaints.

As for the title of this post – I was attempting to find a synonym for the world “spelling.” I didn’t really find one. Neither would my headline space permit me to post the word I copied from the Internet, demonstrating its proper pronunciation. It couldn’t recognize the symbols for getting the pronunciation right. Golly, I can do something better than my blog software. I love those upside down e’s.

Bleeding Kansas

This is one of my Mother’s paintings. Its called “Lilly White Town.” She painted it to symbolize the new world we had moved to when we left Kansas and my Dad began teaching business law at Mankato State. It was a different world where some of my new school mates took to calling me “reb” because they thought my Kansas accent was a southern accent.

When I moved from Topeka, Kansas, to Mankato, Minnesota in 1963 to start junior high school I left a classroom in which there were as many black kids as white kids. My new school had never seen a single black child in a hundred years.

The fellow I call “my Buddy” likes to send me emails calling be a “bigot.” He also calls me a “race hustler.” This is a person I once teased when I discovered he wrote a civil rights rule for a municipality back in the day. I don’t think that when he calls me names he means that I am prejudiced against white people although its likely he thinks I’m guilty of “liberal guilt.” This is a term used by “conservatives” who also like to call liberals “bleeding hearts.” Liberals are supposed to be driven by guilt to rectify old wrongs by accepting the blame for them. This is what Jesus did when he “died for our sins.” How dare libs take on a Jesus complex.

Well, of course, this self righteous attitude would rankle. The equally dim “conservative” reaction goes something like this: “Don’t blame me and don’t expect me to apologize. I never owned slaves. The Civil War is over. Move on. And for your information – just because I’m white doesn’t mean I got any privileges handed to me.” I suspect, but can not prove, that all this goes through my Buddy’s head when he calls me names.

After the Herculean multi-year task of putting 40 years accumulated paperwork in some sort of order in my attic office I’m sitting with a floor completely free from boxes, folders and piles of documents. There are just a handful of items within reach of my clean desk. One of them is the book, Bleeding Kansas, I ordered recently after spotting it in the Kansas City Library.

Its one of the books I plan to consult as I write about my Grandfather, George Robb, next year. His father settled next to a black former slave eighteen years after the passage of the Kansas Nebraska Act.

Long time readers of this blog may remember my past references to my Grandfather’s ties with his neighbor the ex slave and my Grandfather’s service with black soldiers in World War 1 and maybe even the black maid my Mother hired to take care of him when he became infirm.

I think I’m the perfect person to talk about race. I think my Mother suffered from a little guilt where race was concerned. The painting at the beginning is evidence of this. The schools she attended were segregated until she got to junior high school. The Civil Right’s movement was going full bore when she was a young mother. Then she moved to Mankato at its height where there was precisely one black resident among 40,000 locals. He was Dr. Boerboom a veterinarian.

I, on the other-hand got the benefit of Brown v. Topeka Board of Education, another frequent topic in this blog. These were my classmates in sixth grade before I left Topeka for lily white Mankato.

In many ways attending school with so many black kids inocculated me from thinking of them as a sterotype. They were individuals and I can understand how and why the 8% of blacks who voted for Donald Trump might have justified voting for man I consider an amoral, race-baiter.

Standing next to me at the top left is the only other Harry I knew growing up, Harry O’Neil. I vividly remember watching him round third base on our elementary playground after he lofted a kickball way into the outfield and looking over his shoulder to make sure he could run to home plate. A split second after he turned his head forward to run into home he smacked into an immovable six-inch-wide tether-ball poll that the Topeka Schools had inconveniently placed on the path from third base to home. He lost his incisors.

On the other end of the top row is Cynthia Robinson. What an annoying girl. She insisted she had another last name that belonged to her real father. There was a divorce or something going on. She was a tattle tale and a religious scold. She once tried to get my favorite teacher Mrs. Criss to kick me off a science club for some infraction. When she overheard me say something she disapproved of she grandly told me that if I ever took the Lord’s name in vain he’d strike me dead on the spot. I took great delight in looking up to the heavens and shouting to God to kill me. Poor Cynthia could only tell me reproachfully that God would oblige me but do it in his own good time when I least expected it. To my delight God has been in no hurry to expedite her prediction.

There’s Sherman a couple rows below me. I remember Mark Knickerbocker telling everyone with great enthusiasm, when Sherman showed up in sixth grade, what a cool kid he was because Mark had known him at a different school years before. My first interaction with Sherman was after school when he snatched my folder of artwork and proceeded to dump the pictures I’d made out to blow around on the playground.

I remember Vicky Bryant who is not in this picture because she was sent to Mrs. Muxlow’s sixth grade class where all the smart kids ended up. (Mr. Ross taught the losers although at the time I thought it was simply the luck of the draw that had separated me from so many of my friends) I invited Vicky to the cool Halloween Party my Dad organized for me in our basement. She was outgoing, smart, friendly and one heck of an athlete.

I passed some of these black kids houses on my way to school next to “Tennessee Town.” Some of them had 12 siblings and lived in tiny rattle trap houses propped up on cement blocks. Leslie Lewis was one of them. She was an Amazon who my Mother thought was becoming quite mature while I only saw her as a goofy giantess. I remember quiet studious black girls from middle class families who were too dignified for me to get to know. Thinking back on it I suspect there was a powerful incentive for them to protect their dignity by having as little to do with dangerous white people than they absolutely had to.

The five years I spent at Loman Hill Elementary School were like an inoculation against white cluelessness. It didn’t make me a champion for civil rights (which I think I am) but it gave me the sense that no one should be stereotyped based on the color of their skin. Heck, only a handful of my black classmates were really dark. A lot of them were much lighter skinned and represented a lot of white genetics. Gotta love the one drop rule.

Among my many finds in the Kansas State Historical Museum Archives was a paper my Grandfather wrote about James H Lane. I have yet to read it and fully expect to learn more about Kansas History as I write a book about my Grandfather. I think America is in the midst of a new Come to Jesus movement where race is concerned. I think that sharing what I know of my Grandfather’s experiences could give us a new perspective and help us move on. If nothing else writing it will help me sleep better at night.

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.

Topeka homecoming

In 2002 I visited my old Topeka home with my Mother just as Alzheimers was beginning to intrude into her life. I asked her to drive me around town to show me the seven houses her family moved to, one each year, for the first seven years her father was the Kansas State Auditor. I took their pictures, where they still stood, except for the house on Clay Street that may have fallen victim to the tornado in 1966. In two weeks I’ll be heading back to Topeka, this time as a guest of the local VFW to participate as they memorialize Mom’s father on November 11th. It will be the 99th anniversary of the battle that made him a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

For the past couple months I have been sorting and organizing documents related to his life. They fill five three-ring binders. I’ll probably come back with even more documentation because I plan to spend a couple days at the Kansas Historical Society where my Mother and her sister took his letters after his death. At the time she was quite irritated with one of the archivists who panned their gift of my Grandfather’s Medal of Honor telling them that the Historical Society had more of that kind of stuff than it knew what to do with. When I visited Topeka with her in 2002 the medal was hanging in an exhibit about my grandfather. Here’s Mom bending down to read the captions:

That helmet in the case used to hang on a wall between the garage and Grandpa’s kitchen. My cousins liked wearing it with the bullet hole next to the temple.

I also took pictures of some Topeka schools. The one on the top is Loman Hill Elementary where newly integrated students were sent to our classrooms when I was in Second grade. The photo in the middle was the segregated Buchanan School whose students were sent to Loman Hill. How appropriate that it was named for the least competent President in the Nation’s history. The bottom school was Monroe Elementary now the site for the Brown V. Board of Education National Historic site.

Think twice before pushing “send”

So begins the NY Times piece on panic spreading on Capital Hill as the Russians make public yet another luminaries personal emails:

WASHINGTON — A panicked network anchor went home and deleted his entire personal Gmail account. A Democratic senator began rethinking the virtues of a flip phone. And a former national security official gave silent thanks that he is now living on the West Coast.

The digital queasiness has settled heavily on the nation’s capital and its secretive political combatants this week as yet another victim, former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, fell prey to the embarrassment of seeing his personal musings distributed on the internet and highlighted in news reports.

“There but for the grace of God go all of us,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council spokesman for President Obama who now works in San Francisco. He said thinking about his own email exchanges in Washington made him cringe, even now.

“Sometimes we’re snarky, sometimes we are rude,” Mr. Vietor said, recalling a few such moments during his time at the White House. “The volume of hacking is a moment we all have to do a little soul searching.”

The Powell hack, which may have been conducted by a group with ties to the Russian government, echoed the awkwardness of previous leaks of emails from Democratic National Committee officials and the C.I.A. director, John O. Brennan. The messages exposed this week revealed that Mr. Powell considered Donald J. Trump a “national disgrace,” Hillary Clinton “greedy” and former Vice President Dick Cheney an “idiot.”

I’ve been struck in the book Founding Rivals with the indirect, veiled and fussy way the great men and women of the late 17th Century wrote about themselves. I suppose being crass would have gotten them into duals. Here’s how James Madison wrote to a friend explaining that his girl friend had dumped him, “a disappointment in some circumstances.”

In the books I read about LBJ by Robert Caro I was fascinated at how he eschewed the use of paper to communicate. He was on the phone all day and all night. Nothing could be traced. How fortunate for historians that once he became President all his phone conversations were recorded.

I long ago made up my mind that I would write all my emails as though they would be made public. When, seven years ago, I was in a seemingly life and death struggle with Johnston Controls my emails were subpoened. It took me a week to go through them but with my techy son’s help I gladly sent them over a thousand emails which were then considered public property ( I guess ) and quoted out of context in the Duluth Budgeteer to make me seem brutish. I derided the criticism I knew that lots of my allies in Let Duluth Vote were in fear about their emails to me being read by JCI’s attorneys. In this they were like all of today’s poobahs in Washington D.C.

Honestly, I am pleased to know that General Colin Powell described Donald Trump as a “disgrace.” I have always valued Powell’s opinion and this hack has only validated that opinion.

BTW I rediscovered this old promise I’d written in the blog seven years ago. I still hold by it:

I’ll reserve my hardest and most caustic comments for big shots, chronic liars and the like. I will accept criticism leveled at me from people whose genuine motivation is their children’s welfare with patience and my rebuttals will be tempered with fairness and objectivity.



I didn’t mean to put that in all caps but I’m too tired to retype Ecclesiastes 1:2-4.

I pushed through the last six pages of Proverbs to get to Ecclesiastes a few minutes ago. I’ve been looking forward to reading this book.

I wrote a post in 2014 with this phrase baked into its heading. I revisited it just now but didn’t have the patience to re-read it. Way too Stream of conscientiousness. It tells how I became a fifth wheel (or third) when two of my old gradeschool acquaintences mind melded at my mention of the Byrds’ pop song Turn, Turn, Turn. Its a riff on the verse in Ecclesiastes that begins “For every thing there is a season.” Too bad it wasn’t my season.

My friends hadn’t known each other till I somehow got them together on one of my summer sojourns back from Minnesota to Kansas. They were both Ace students (I think that’s an apt description) and each was the respective President of their High School’s Senior Class, one at the venerable Topeka High the other at Topeka West. I felt like an inadvertant match maker when I learned later that they went to one of their high school Homecoming dances together.

Serves me right not knowing anything about the Bible.

Sex Education

One of the most engaging articles in the Sunday paper was written by an intern for the Duluth Budgeteer, Ryley Graham. It was about her appreciation for books written by today’s crop of American female comedians. Her story began with a bunch of rednecky old men who saw Ms. Graham reading Amy Schumer’s recent best seller “The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo.” . They let Ryley know they approved because Schumer was very funny and joked a lot about sex. That they were a bunch of red neck’s made no difference. Ms. Graham appreciated such books for a different reason. They are full of useful information. For instance, Schumer’s book has been controversial and contains anecdotes that none of the geezers probably ever heard about. Schumer’s candidly describes waking up to find her boyfriend stealing her virginity without asking permission. The memoir leaves it up to the reader to decide whether this was an act of rape or not.

I wrote about Schumer once before on the blog and the topic led me to use an all too common four letter word that I only use sparingly here. (A quick check suggests that this is only the 30th time that the word shit has made it into my blog either on its own or in compounds like “bullshit.”) That’s out of 17,598 posts or once every 586 posts. I’m not particularly prissy but after inflicting my fifth grade potty mouth on Topeka, Kansas, my Dad advised me not to waste perfectly good swear words through overuse. He said that if I wanted to catch people’s attention I needed to use them sparingly. Hell, (to use a word I’m less fussy with appearances in over 200 posts), young people today don’t think twice about using these words. I hear them shouted out by partying college students many a spring and summer night when my windows are open for the fresh air.

It’s a three letter word that had parents panicked during my junior high years “sex” as in sex education. Half of the parents were afraid these classes would give kids ideas. The other half were afraid that if we didn’t inflict the class on their children their children would inflict a lot of embarassing questions on them. A number of male comics have made hay with this subject through the years but female comics have been slower to follow suit. I’m not sure if this is because women want to appear demure or if they thought the “ick” factor would drive away the male half of their audience. But Ryley’s old farts haven’t been deterred. Yes, even the Chainsaw Massacre of subjects female business can catch a guy’s attention more successfully than the self submitted porno videos that litter the Internet.

Yesterday I finished reading American Rose to Claudia. Its a biography of stripper Gypsy Rose Lee. I found it in a thrift shop this summer and to my delight it dished about a lot of historical characters I’ve been reading about lately as well as vaudeville, and burlesque. It makes clear that Gypsy mythologized her life while giving new meaning to the term “stage mothers.” Her Mother was a lesbian/psychopath/serial murderer. Trust me, none of that got into Gypsy’s self created mythology. Gypsy and her sister survived one helluva childhood.

Gypsy was a product of those bad old days before sex education classes. You know, the Era of brothels, madams, back alley abortionists and casting room couches. I doubt that the departure of Roger Aisles will put an end to that Era and God knows, today a pernicious new sex trafficking epidemic to taken root. Thank goodness the idea of “fallen women” is being put to rest by women like Schumer. She might even kill off “slut” or force us to find an equivalent term for men that doesn’t leave us jealous or in awe of them. Talk about bragging rights Casanova claimed to have gotten his own daughter into bed.

I was in junior high when Sex Ed classes relieved my parents from the responsibility of embarassing me but just in case my folks had no objection to my seeing the movie Gypsy should sex ed fall short. Heck, my Aunt and Uncle were sophisticates and when they were visiting Duluth they took in the Saratoga as many young couples did in the Mad Men Era. Myth or not I suppose seeing the movie was every bit as edifying as anything I learned in Sex ed. It wasn’t graphic; and it was a myth; but it also gave my parent’s way of giving me a preview of coming attractions. Today Amy Schumer fits that bill.

Gypsy was famous for giving her audiences as little sex as possible and performing a parody of strip tease with a wink and faux blushes.
I prefer the candid conversation prompted by today’s young comics who don’t wink and who leave all the blushing up to me.

Unto the fifth generation – Not!

My children are as allergic to today’s GOP as though it was a toxic substance. If it had not become the party of God and the vulgarian, double talker, Donald Trump, they might have become fifth generation Republicans.

Using the best examples from my family’s history I’d like to talk about the preceding four generations.

The Grand Old Party began its life a few years before my Great Grandfather entered New York harbor from Ireland in 1860 one month after Lincoln’s election and two months before his inauguration. “What’s the news?” called a passenger on his ship as they passed an outward bound vessel. “South Carolina has seceded from the Union,” was the reply. Thomas Robb was twelve years old. It would be four years of war plus seven years of Reconstruction before he could cast his first vote as a naturalized citizen.

Thomas was the son of a protestant land manager who had threats made against his life by Irish Nationalists. The men who left that threat attached to a prize bull they killed were largely Catholics in Ireland and Democrats in America. It’s not surprising then that Thomas would vote Republican.

If he had any doubts about his party’s virtues one incident sealed his thinking. Continue reading

Zero Hour’s beginnings twelve years ago

Tonight I decided to look through old scribblings of mine thinking that I might be able to cobble a book together for use in a possibly nefarious activity in the near future. I discovered a 2002 column I had written for the Duluth Reader during my four-year stint as a columnist. The column presaged the email I’ve been receiving for the past couple weeks from students and parents trying to save the zero hour.

In 2001 I labored long and hard to pass an operational levy. It was an uphill fight. I remember PTA President Judy Seliga-Punyko telling me that she wouldn’t vote for it. She was mad that the school board hadn’t acted on my idea to slim down from three high schools to two high schools. I thought her reasoning was nuts. The following year after the failure of the levy we put an end to the seven period day. Years later Judy’s memory of the loss of the seven periods involved my being on the School Board when it happened so that I could take the blame. She had no memory of voting against the referendum that would have allowed us to keep it.

Well, I’ve pasted the last half of the column below which deals with the Union’s crocodile tears about having lost the extra period. The column begins with my mulling over another run for the legislature in the 2002 election. I eventually did run and lost – one of my thirteen electoral defeats. I think its 13. Its hard to remember them all.

Here’s what I wrote about the “seven period day.” Or, if you’d like, you can read the whole original column:

Last week I bumped into my old nemesis Frank Wanner, the teachers’ union president, a fellow who helped put me in the minority. While my feud with Frank was put to bed two years ago my feud with the folks he helped elect lives on. Well, it’s true that one of them was defeated last year, but the three-high school supporters still have more votes. Frank was very cordial and suggested that we get together. I promised to call.

The next day I had to leave a message with him because he was holding a press conference about saving the seven-period day. I sure wish he’d done this before we finished registering students for a six-period day! When my wife saw him on the news she said, “No wonder Frank was so friendly!” The next day I left another message for Frank.

The weekend was blissfully free of politics (except for some email) until we joined friends for an Easter Dinner. Our friend’s son is interested in political science. He told me that Frank likes to bad mouth SUVs in class. Apparently my website gets discussed too. That explains some of my email.

Frank called me back on Monday and we agreed to meet at Bixby’s. I told Frank that I’d heard that he hated SUV’s. He smiled and asked where I’d heard this. I told him that I had my sources.

We talked about his seven-period day proposal which he assured me was not a negotiations ploy. I prefer to take him at his word. The DFT wants high school students to be able to take up to seven classes a day. Many students, teachers and parents are convinced that this is a key to getting into their preferred colleges. Whether it is or not the six-period day is our response to financial hard times. I told Frank what I keep telling the Board – if we had two high schools we could keep seven periods. Frank didn’t disagree. Ah! But I’m in the minority!

If I could just get elected to the legislature maybe I could do something about school finance. I’m sure not having much luck on the school board.

on National Teacher’s Day

After eight hours of lying in my bed waking periodically so that my night’s sleep only amounted to four or five hours between long stretches of mulling over the future of the Duluth Schools I woke to find that it was National Teacher’s Day. I also found that Snoopy was done with his May dances having danced up a storm two days in a row. By May 3rd he was done with it.

Well, I’ll pick up where the Snoopster left off on May 3rd. with a rumination about a special teacher.

I moved from Kansas to Minnesota at the beginning of seventh grade and learned to my shock that I sounded like a southerner to the kids in North Mankato Junior High. They called me “Reb.” I was invited to my first fight within weeks of my arrival. I almost immediately was exposed as being near sighted and had to wear cardboard sunglasses to school and endure other indignities for the next three years. It was life out of a Beverly Cleary book.

I doubt that after she retired Mrs. Jones, my English teacher, would have had much of a recollection of me but I’ve never forgotten her. She was the teacher who on November 22nd, after an uncharacteristically lengthy absence from class, returned to tell us solemnly that President Kennedy had been shot. She made us learn the spelling of unexpected words like Albuquerque and “Rottweiler.” I remember her telling us of a girl tormented by a boy, who had asked Mrs. Jones for advice. Mrs. Jones advice was very funny. The next time the boy tormented the girl his victim told him in a serious and as complimentary a tone as she could muster, “You know Billy, you are very cadaverous.” Thinking he had been paid the highest compliment without having the slightest idea what the word meant the tormentor became more of a source of amusement to his victim than a menace.

Mrs. Jones was fascinated by the events of the world and made us read her classroom copies of the Reader’s Digest. I can’t forget reading about the Stanleyville Massacre and the vision of European’s stranded in the Congo surrounded by crowds of Congolese who cut out their livers and passed them around to eat before their dying eyes. For generations Africans had shared the livers of lions in much the same way to take on their power. Now they were taking on the powers of their hated colonizers. I remember reading the novella The Snow Goose , a story of another outsider, a hunchback, who bravely rescues doomed men at the battle of Dunkirk. And I remember reading Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

I don’t read much fiction but I read this book carefully and was prepared when Mrs. Jones gave us a thirty question test on the story.

A day later Mrs. Jones announced to the class, with great satisfaction, that two students had gotten perfect papers on the test and asked the kids to guess who the smart kids were. All the popular or smart kids were guessed but all the guesses were wrong. Mrs. Jones announced that Jim Koeppen and Harry Welty had gotten perfect papers. Funny, I’m getting tears in my eyes thinking about my old teacher’s humanity. I was a kid who needed to be something other than a dorky newcomer with a funny accent and for the rest of that class I was I was a smart kid.

Its funny how such small tokens of generosity can stay with a person for a lifetime. Thank you Mrs. Jones wherever your spirit rests.

I fought the law

As I was belatedly putting away my Mother’s christmas ornaments this morning I was thinking about how strange it is that I’ve developed a reputation for being something of a hell raiser. I don’t think I’m a whit different inside than I was back in my school days. Back then I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes.

I still remember the most daring thing I did all through-out high school that violated school policy. As a senior I let myself get badgered into taking a fake hall pass into Mrs. Beech’s classroom to give to Barb Shelhorn. It was spring so I almost got through four years of high school without a misdemeanor but I let Jim Robinson harangue me into it. I was minding my own business, probably in a study hall, when he handed me a pink hall pass with Barb’s name and some forged adult’s signature. He asked me to go to Beech’s class, knock on the door and say I had a pass for Barb. Mrs. Beech looked at me hard when I did this but let me come into her class to give Barb the pass. Barb left with me and met Jim in the hallway.

It was not exactly Ferris Beuhler’s Day Off. Sample Dialogue: “Oh, I’m sorry. I can’t come to the door right now. I’m afraid that in my weakened condition, I could take a nasty spill down the stairs and subject myself to further school absences.” But today I’m rather more enamored of Ferris at least compared to the stifling of creativity by orthodoxy.

Ah, but pardon me. I must go out an buy the latest copy of Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised. It’s in its 11th edition. I did like to sing “I fought the law but the law won” by the Bobby Fuller Four but I’m still not a rebel. It was a horrible song and so damned singable.

Taking a pin to my pompous balloon

Yeah, this email reaction to my white lie post from a sympathizer just about sums it up:

“Harry, except for talking too much, you are a real asset to our community.”

My Buddy was a little less charitable offering me an alternative adage:

“Bullshit might make the grass grow green, but . . .”

He refrains from completing his proffered quote but I imagine that it would conclude something like this: … too much will kill the grass.

My Buddy gets great satisfaction from his disgust of bullshit. I rather admire him for that.

Meanwhile yet another ally heading off to the DFL convention today to choose between Sharla Gardner and Rep. Simonson for the State Senate endorsement sent me a very interesting Q & A. It was with the Author of the book What’s the Matter with Kansas which skewered Republicans. He’s got a new book out now skewering Democrats.

Maybe my real quarrel is with all the college-educated folks who insisted that spending half a billion bucks on new schools would lead to nirvana. Of course, at the time, all I could think of was the children’s fable about the Emperor’s new clothes. I’m sure the King’s courtiers and counselors all went to Ivy League schools and were pained to hear that only dolts could not see the King’s regal new attire.

BTW. I had great fun yesterday reading Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax to kindergartners through 2nd graders at Lakewood Elementary for Earth Day. It taught me that there are some things we really don’t thneed.

Thinking in Adages

I was named after a man my Dad was profoundly disappointed in, his father, Harry Welty.

There is it. After a couple hours of fervid thinking about anything and everything other than a memoir I woke up with a good first sentence for such a thing. I’m not sure of a second sentence to follow but it might be something like – I have lived with deep regret since his death thirty years ago that he left this world burdened with a profound disappointment in me too.

Although the second sentence is still in doubt that first one so naturally leads into a first chapter that it almost seems like a magic incantation. But I’m not here at my computer to write that chapter, let alone an autobiography. I feel immensely rested despite a mere four hours of sleep. I didn’t even toss and turn in the hours that followed. My mind simply raced from one potential post to the next. My dedicated readers will recognize this. War and Peace was a mere 560,000 words. It is dwarfed by this blog in verbiage if not content. This is my sanity. I pour some small portion of what’s on my mind in here to prevent me from hearing voices in my head.

Yesterday I thought of a good adage and, before forgetting, typed it into an email and pushed send to myseslf. This is it: “White lies are like clouds. Stack enough of them on top of each other and they won’t let any light in.” It could almost go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that recent events helped condense that bit of cumulus in my head.

In my first blog post yesterday I included about six titles for posts I wanted to write. I got to four or five of them. One had a list of miscellany that I didn’t get a round to blogging about. This morning has left me with a great many more among them, Why I didn’t check to see if my sister was OK after the Earthquake in Equador; An official record of how shot up my Grandfather was after WW I; How to keep Kansas sod from rotting when you are building a house; and this one – How Chair Harala and I are keeping it civil under our current duress. I’m sure the 375 readers this month who, according to my blog stats, spent over an hour reading my blog in a single sitting would like me to expound on that. In due course. In due course.

Yesterday I came closer to settling my future finances, raked the yard, worked into the night answering email and writing up what my church’s men’s club plans to do in the future for the Bulletin and joined my wife to watch the last 45 minutes of Some Like it Hot. What a funny movie that is and, for me, it keeps getting funnier. The host of TCM told an anecdote about it afterwards I found charming. Its director, Billy Wilder, screened it in front of 600 people who sat through it in stony silence except for one fellow who laughed all by himself all the way through it. The guy who laughed was one of my first television crushes, Steve Allen.

There, that does it. That’s all the stuff that kept me awake. Oh, except for mentioning that I will be spending Earth Day at Lakewood School reading Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax to first and second graders. That alone should make up for all the things I couldn’t stop thinking about while not tossing and turning – how I screwed up as a new teacher and disappointed my Dad on the eve of his death.

That was just one teacher’s travail. Now I feel like an entire school district’s fate hinges on how well I navigate the next few weeks – or years. As Jana Hollingsworth once told me: “It’s all about you.” Only, as far as ISD 709 is concerned, it really isn’t.

“Fair enough”

So, where have I been for the past couple days? I have a post with nothing in it lined up to talk about the persecution of Art Johnston by a gold star teacher. I know what will go there I just haven’t found the time to write it yet. The person who prompted my last post cut me a lot of slack for not polishing up my posts by accepting my excuse that I was too darned busy to fuss about editing so many words. “Fair enough” my critic wrote. But, I have worked harder for the past month trying to smooth out the worst shambles in my writing. too much is at stake for me to lose credibility with new readers unaccustomed to my blithe disregard for well written posts.

I have been, Well, busy. Continue reading

“I never met a man I didn’t like.”

I took this maxim to heart when I was a kid. I’m not sure how its author, Will Rogers, got into my head. Rogers was a rope trick vaudevillian from Oklahoma and became something of the Nation’s conscience through the Depression. He was killed in a plane crash before World War II but still his memory hung on so that I was well aware of him as a kid. I never saw his movies, I never read his newspaper columns. I only heard him in snippets. He was a gentle political commentator who said famously, “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.” He was so All American that he was part Indian. (I should go check Wikipedia to make sure I’ve got this all down right but if I’m wrong my Buddy or someone else will correct me and I’ll duly note it in some future blog post.)

My late night writing about Art Johnston, and Cheryl Lein and the current campaign for a new and improved school board must have been stewing in my head all night. I woke up with that quote in my head. The first time I heard it, back in my elementary school days, I decided that’s how I was going to be: I’d never meet a man I wouldn’t like.

Some men, and lately a few women, have made that a challenge. Continue reading

Fond Farewell’s- Morgan Park

Today’s paper has a story about the closing of the 99-year old Morgan Park School and today’s open house where alumni and others can get one last look at the school. Aaron Schweiger is hoping to have better luck wooing MP residents than he had with Rockridge’s neighbors. The Open House will be run from 10AM until 3PM.

I started substitute teaching the last year that Morgan Park was a high school and I often subbed for my friend, DFL Senator Sam Solon, while he was in St. Paul legislating. Sam taught social studies there. Later I got a two-year gig teaching at the school where I had Alanna Oswald (Then Rogers) in my class. Before that I had taken my Proctor boys swimming teams to the MP pool for swimming meets. It was brand spanking new in 1976.

My Dad died just after I finished my last year teaching at the school and learned that I wouldn’t be getting tenure. Had these twin blows not occurred I wouldn’t have become a snow sculptor. Life goes on.

I need a rainy day

Claudia asked me why I was pacing the kitchen this morning. She didn’t realize I’d hopped out of bed at midnight too agitated to sleep on my brand new pillow – one that wasn’t crushed flat. I thought running a few errands at Walgreens might work of my restlessness. I should have just started blogging but I couldn’t quite convince myself that looking at a bluescreen was the thing to do. Instead I slept fitfully on and off on our couch till the early hours then paced as I made my morning coffee….. Claudia has given it up for tea to get a better night’s sleep.

I’d just picked up the Trib and saw that the local Edison Board is planning, in large part, to sever their connection with the national Edison corporation. Its been on their minds to do this for many years. Now it will be done in tandem with their setting up their new high school.

Its going to be a sunny day and my grandsons are coming over so I will limit my blogging despite an avalanche of things to shoot my fingers off about. Tomorrow it looks to rain. Maybe I’ll be able to work off my pacing instinct then. But let’s just see if I can work on tomorrow’s foundation till the boys arrive.

The first time I desperately wanted to write

Claudia and I took six or seven years to decide whether to bring children into this crazy world. It meant a couple strong hints from my parents with baby booties in Christmas socks. When it happened Claudia’s Mother who had experienced the glass ceiling was a little distraught for her daughter thinking she had given up the possibility of being anything other than a wife and mother.

Babies can make everything OK. When our daughter was born we made plans for her baptism at our church, Glen Avon. My Grandmother had sent me the Christening dress she had been baptized in back in 1900. That in turn had been sewn by her great grandmother who was born about the same time as Abe Lincoln and the War of 1812. I loved the thought of putting our daughter in it for the next baptizing. (Ah, Pandora is playing the theme to the movie To Kill a Mockingbird)

My parents weren’t particularly fussy about religious stuff and a baptism was not a draw for them. Neeither was Claudia’s Mom all that churchy but she wanted to fly up on Saturday before hand so she could be there with us. Her new husband Charlie was a pilot. He would fly them up as well as his grade school daughter. Saturday was gray and drizzly and we got the word that if the weather was bad (Charlie wasn’t rated to fly instruments) they might end up somewhere else until the sky cleared.

Claudia and I along with our new baby went up to Butler’s Air Terminal (If I’m recalling the name correctly) to wait for their arrival. After an hour beyond their scheduled arrival time we were getting worried. I’ll cut to the chase here. Charlie got them all killed. We didn’t know this for some time and the next 24 hours were seared in my brain for months to come. Every minute by minute detail, was lodged in my head and seemed dreadfully important. I thought I ought to write them all down for, I don’t know, posterity I guess. As the months slipped by the details blinked out but I could, even now, tell you a lot of details about the Civil Air Patrol, A funeral service filled with all the kids in Christie’s fifth grade class and one body not so badly disfigured that an open casket for one of the three deceased was possible, bears covering the bodies they found at the crash site with leaves, Neighbors bringing us casseroles, Months of clearing out Shirley’s home and settling her estate.

My grandmother’s christening dress still hangs in one of our closets never used by us. Even so, it brings back memories. It took me ten years to start writing and that required an Apple Computer and software that allowed me to correct my copious keyboarding mistakes. Those are still plentiful as are poor story telling which requires some serious proof reading. There are no spell checks for sloppy prose.

There are a lot of epigrams about how writers can’t be trusted. I can’t recall the one I had in mind by a quick google search found, “A writer is always selling someone out.” That’ll do. I still apparently want to write pretty desperately. I get withdrawal symptoms when I don’t blog for a while. I also get anxious because of how far behind I feel.

My Mother-in-law would have been a very cool Grandmother. Damn Charlie. He wasn’t rated for instruments.