Sunday, February 27, 2011

Whenever February comes around

Since this post is about my grandfather and since he once told me that he sometimes dreamed he was a cowboy in the Old West, it seemed appropriate to use a painting by Montana cowboy and artist, Charles M. Russell, to illustrate the piece. This particular painting is entitled, "Lassoing a Steer," and was painted by old Charlie in 1897. Ride 'em, Grandpa!

Every year, about this time

Like many American children, I grew up without the presence of a father in my life.

My parents were divorced before I was aware of him -- the father figure. I saw him three times during my entire life, once when he had been drinking, before I was in school, probably about age four; once when he had been drinking, when I was about age eleven or twelve. Once, when I was twenty-one. That time was the first and the only time I spent a day talking with him -- none of the time privately, and, as it turned out, not a word of which served an real purpose.

I did have a step-father from about the time I was becoming a teenager, and our relationship deteriorated the older and more rebellious I became until, three days after I graduated from high school, I said, "Hasta la vista, baby," (or something like that) and left my parental home forever.

Actually, this piece has nothing to do with my father or my step-father. Rather, it is a notation that today is the birthday of my mother's father -- my grandfather. He quit observing his birthdays several years ago, I might add. He is long in his grave.

Since my parents were divorced, again I will mention that I was in another typical American situation. My mother and I lived with her parents for a number of years. Therefore, I came to know my grandfather very well.

What can I say about him? Well, he drank too much. But, he labored like a superman until he was well into his sixties. He worked for the Great Northern Railroad forty years in an ancient job. He was a section hand, which is to say, he repaired and replaced rails and did similar chores in the heat and humidity of Minnesota summers and in the blizzards and frigid temperatures of Minnesota winters.

More than once, I can recall him called out in the middle of the night to help repair a bridge that had been damaged in a flash flood or to help shovel out a train that had become snowbound in a blizzard. He was a real man among men, from my perspective.

I can remember him coming home once so frozen and exhausted he could not remove his own clothing, and my grandmother stripped him naked and helped him into a tub of hot water and bathed him. They did not see me standing nearby, watching; for a few minutes, nothing else existed in the world other than themselves. I envy them for those minutes. He was full-blooded German, by the way, and she was full-blooded Norwegian. That sort of twain did meet.

My grandmother, together with her sisters and brothers, had a farm as their inheritance. It was not unusual for my grandfather to help with the work there on weekends. Before my time, when my grandfather and his identical twin brother were in their twenties and thirties, they raised horses on the farm. The twin once saved a drowning man by riding his horse far out into a lake to reach him -- just like in the motion pictures.

What I mostly remember about my grandfather are his books and his constant reading. He seldom watched television. He like to listen to music on his radio and to read. He sat outside in a chair under the shade of a tree and read all day on Sundays during the summer months, no matter what the heat and the humidity. He read whenever he was not working or gardening. He must have enjoyed gardening, too, because he spent hours at it.

By now, you might have guessed that he rarely spoke. What I know of him, I know because I watched him and saw what he did. By the way, his twin brother died when I was somewhere between two and three years of age. Strange as it might sound, I remember this identical twin brother from one occasion, and I remember I knew who was which.

The last time I saw my grandfather, I was twenty-three and he was sixty-nine. I invited him to a bar in a bowling alley in suburban Minneapolis, and we had a couple of beers. I cannot remember what we talked about other than he really liked my new wife because her black hair and darker complexion reminded him of his sisters when they were young. He, himself, had wavy, black hair and perfect eyesight to the day he died. Must have been all the beer he drank ....

He was happy and laughing that day. A couple of months later, he sent me a Christmas gift. He did, I mean, by himself, not with my grandmother. A couple of months after that, he was dead from a heart attack.

The only purpose of this post is to mention that I carry him with me, and think of him often, especially this time of the year when his birthday arrives, and I visualize him, mostly with a book in one hand and a glass of lemonade in the other hand -- sitting in a rocking chair under the shade of a tree on a hot, summer day, reading and reading and reading.

These memories are true and good, and give me strength and a reason to smile at times. I miss him.

A musical footnote to this post

For a touch of music to accompany these words, here are three pieces by German composers featuring the violin. As I mentioned before, this grandfather was full-blooded German. As I did not mention, he and his twin brother took violin lessons as children, and continued to play into adulthood.

Only a few years after I came into the world, my grandfather's twin died, and I never heard them play together. On occasion, however, after a stein of beer or two or three, my grandfather would become nostalgic and bring out his violin to discover what his hands and fingers remembered from his childhood.

By then, he was no longer an accomplished musician, by any means, but, for me, it was enjoyable to experience and a childhood treasure to remember now.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A simple matter of priorities

If you do not recognize this fellow, you are beyond help ....

So, what else is new?

I suppose I could lie and write here that I took a hop, a skip and a jump way up north a few days ago to the shores of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and then had taken this photograph.

But, anyone who has read me here during the past two-plus years knows that I am not a fan of the politics or the policies of Barack Obama, and I would have to be paid to attend an event in which he was speaking. It would have been evident that I was lying.

(It is possible I might have voted for Hilary, though, had the circumstances been different.)

And, anyone who has read me here during the past two years might recall that I dropped out of the tedious world of journalism in May 2009, so I had absolutely no reason to put in an appearance there as a newsman. Once again, it would have been evident that I was lying.

(Who knows? I might decide to give journalism another whirl around the dance floor. After all, I have come from it and gone back to it a few times in the past. Mostly for money, not for love, I hope you understand.)

So, no. I was not present at the Obama event to take the photograph you see here today.

(Not too shabby a shot, though, hah? Excellent work, Tommy .... hmmmm .... Tommy? Yeh, well, ok ..... a professional is a professional is a professional -- from beginning to end.)

The fact of the matter, to talk like a politician talks, is that there remains one other surviving member of the Michigan version of the "wild bunch" in addition to me, and our photo today was taken by the other. He sent it to me to taunt me. He is a liberal, you see, while I am .... well .... sort of a conservative. By the way, the photo is copyrighted, so please, treat it appropriately.

Anyway, had I been in town when the President was there, undoubtedly, I would have spent the day in a canoe on The Lake rather than listening to his endless, empty chatter. It simply is a matter of selecting one's priorities. With that, we shall adjourn to the next item on the agenda.

Notes from the land of snow

My posts are becoming infrequent, intentionally, I might add, so that I spend more time working on other projects. Yes, this means establishing priorities. Sort of the here today, gone tomorrow concept. So, with that in mind, here are a couple of things I have mentioned in comments, but not in an actual post:

I will be staying in this townhouse in March and April and, probably, May. I received a message from the owner last week stating I could stay as long as I wished. He gave no explanation, and, simply, I do not care what the reason. My assumption is that this will make the next few months a bit easier for me.

Next, I am in the process of securing a house in suburban St. Paul. It is about twenty miles from the downtown Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I anticipate moving in toward the end of May, no later than June 1.

This house will become my "fire base," as it were, for the next year or two or three. I probably will rent out either the upstairs or the basement next autumn, depending on the circumstances, and use one or the other as a place to store my own personal possessions and to "camp out" when I am in and around Minnesota.

Sometime in the autumn, most like late September or early October, I will take to the road again, in a manner of speaking. If I remain in America during the Winter months, it will be in a location where the sun shines and the temperature is considerably warmer than it is here-abouts and ice only exists in refrigerators. I think I would look good with a year-round tan.

Anyway, that is the way life is shaping up for me at this moment. With hindsight, I should have left this region last November and returned in March to do the business required of me here, but, at least, I will have accomplished a few things by remaining here during this long, cold, snowy Winter. To this, we can add about a foot of snow just fallen during the past thirty-six hours. Uff da.

Finally, do you have an hour to spare? Whatever .... if you do not recognize this rock opera, you are beyond help ....

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine's Day note for you -- and only you

"The Farewell of Telemachus and Eucharis" was painted in 1818 by Jacques Louis David. While not as well known as Cupid and Psyche or as Romeo and Juliet or as Paris and Helen of Troy, these absolute lovers also were forced to part. Eucharis was a daughter of the sea nymph Calypso, while Telemachus was the son of an ancient Greek mortal who is among the three or four most remembered today. If you do not know who that man might be, perhaps your curiosity will be stirred enough after reading this to do a bit of research. I might add that my initial thought for an illustration for this post was another painting by David (Paris and Helen of Troy), but, when I saw this piece, the woman's hairstyle and the presence of the man's second faithful companion won me over in an instant.

Happiness is being an absolute beginner

There probably have been five or six variations of this song I have posted since I entered this realm of mostly invisible individuals more than two years ago. This probably is the fourth or fifth time I have posted this particular version. I absolutely love it.

This song, without a doubt, is on my list of the five best songs ever in the era of rock and roll. I love the melody. I love the lyrics. I love the smiles and the happiness and the hopefulness that emanates from the music. I love the casual movements of the performers in this version that can only be accomplished by absolute professionals at their crafts.

Have you ever noticed that? The difference between amateurs and professionals, I mean? Experience has nothing to do with it. Age has nothing to do with it. Education has nothing to do with it. It is a god-given gift -- innate, inborn, instinctual -- which is a natural movement whether melodic or violent, whether known or unknown, whether artful or crass.

It is evident on a battlefield. Some people cannot die, and a few even realize that at some point along the way. Others know from the very beginning they cannot survive warfare no matter what they do or where they hide. It is visible on a stage. Some performers struggle and work their hearts out, but while they might achieve momentary popularity, genuine art is beyond their reach. Others open their mouths and voice of an angel emerges and their bodies move like a river flowing to the rhythm of Nature itself.

Psychiatrists might gaze within the minds of men, but they cannot understand them. Writers might describe events which have occurred, but they can only blindly speculate about what will happen tomorrow. Everyone knows that vanity is a sin, but knowing is not realization and does not slow it down.

Whether you see my point or not, or, if you do, whether you agree with me or not, is of no importance. Whether you read this or not does matter. Maybe, to you. For sure, to me.

There is a cliché to the effect that nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. It is not correct. There are a few things which are certain, like the absolute love Paris had for Helen; like the absolute perfection of Michelangelo's Pieta or David; even like the haunting, absolute truth of a rock and roll song like "Absolute Beginners."

I noticed the other day that at the site of one of David Bowie's songs, someone had written: "David Bowie is an alien." I think that possibly could be right. I think there might be a few others among us, too, but most of us are blind to their presence and are inclined to worship the momentary rather than to build upon the lasting.

Moses knew the score. And, when you have given up on mankind as I did long ago, there remains the consistency and the beauty of Nature in which to find a semblance of absolute truth.

Something special ....