book marsworth

By Sheila O’Connor
348 pages
Published by P.G. Putnam and Sons
Released date: April 2018
ISBN 978-0-399-16193-3
This review written by Charles Johnson is based on an
uncorrected text made available prior to publication.

The life of a child in a small town isn’t what it used to be, but here in Sheila O’Connor’s book, we find that small town of 1968, complete with newspaper routes, pets, opinionated neighbors, bullies, and warm summer afternoons at the lake on the edge of town. Ten-year-old Reenie Kelly, in an unexpected exchange of letters with a silent, unseen senior citizen of this town, finds herself amid the meaning of friendship, family and how to take a stand when it matters.

It all begins honestly enough – Reenie is hired for a paper route. It is important to her to meet all her customers, so she knocks on doors and introduces herself. It all goes well until she gets to the Marsworth residence. No answer. Her reaction is to leave a note to elicit responses from the man inside. At first the letters are short, and mostly from Reenie. Mr. Marsworth answers seldom, with polite words that suggest “Go Away Little Girl.” Over the summer months, Reenie wins over Mr. Marsworth with her innocent questions as they grow closer with each letter they exchange, and he engages her with increasing frequency in his typewritten responses.

UNTIL TOMORROW, MR. MARSWORTH, is entirely presented via the letters between our two writers. Reenie’s letters first appear as simple notes, but through the book she quickly develops a vocabulary and writing style that defies her age. (Personally, that was a leap that was hard for me to take at first.) Mr. Marsworth’s letters are sporadic, because he’s not so sure at first how to deal with such youthful enthusiasm, but we learn that he has his reasons for abetting a friendship with his paper delivery girl.

A vast range of emotions come through those letters that involve the joys of time at the beach to learning news from the other side of the world. (Remember 1968? The height of Viet Nam … enough of that for now….) Author O’Connor gives the reader an accurate taste of the childlike Reenie and the wise, experienced world of Mr. Marsworth.

There are others the reader meets as well. Sheila O’Connor delivers a cast of characters from Reenie’s family (Grandma, brothers Billly and Dare) a pair of bullies who are the sons of an important person in town, and a perky new girl in town nicknamed “Snow Cone”. To avoid spoilers, that’s enough said about the people in the book.

The book is aimed at kids in grade five and older. This book may be a bit of a challenge for this level; at 348 pages, that’s a big chunk to bite off and the reading level might be a bit higher than this age group. Presenting the story in letters is unique – kudos to Ms. O’Connor for employing this concept.
The reader surely gets to see the personality of Reenie and Mr. Marsworth this way – that’s the advantage of the letters format. This story would also have worked as well in prose form.

Enjoy this one – and then maybe find someone to write letters to yourself.


BOOK REVIEW: OVER MY SHOULDER by Kacey Ruegsegger Johnson

41QRWXGgExL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_BOOK REVIEW

By Kacey Ruegsegger Johnson
(With Karen Booker Schelhaas)
ISBN No. 978-1-7336516-0-8
Self-Published by OMS, LCC
253 pages, including a forward,
11 chapters, afterword, and other information
Genre: Nonfiction: Personal Experience

Here’s a book about the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado – its 20th anniversary on April 20, 2019. Are you expecting a tell-all book? A push for gun control? Shooters named and blamed? A diatribe against the police? After all, that’s what we see published so many times about similar events. Well, alter your expectations. You won’t find such socio-political ax-grinding here. Instead, Kacey shares a horrific time in her life but yet chooses survivorship over victimhood, hope over fear.

I read the book in a day – there are no aspersions upon anyone, no lengthy, over-stated medical reports, no preaching . . . just a book written honestly and sincerely – and might I add, bravely and baldly honest about her choices and experiences before, during and after that day in April.

In OVER MY SHOULDER, we first meet Kacey in the library just before the shooters enter the building. She describes a strongly personal account of the initial confusion, the horror, an amazingly deep spiritual experience, and her departure from the building while her shoulder, decimated by a shotgun slug put in it by the shooters, bleeds incessantly. Medical treatment ensues as her family sits in the waiting room, hungry for word of her fate. We learn that in the previous year, found Kacey enduring the suicide of two friends, hurling Kacey into her own consideration of the same. No longer the open and warm successful student, but a sullen, sour youth open to the idea of her own destruction – only to rise again due to the love of her family and transfer to a new school – Columbine.

After the shooting, surgeries on her shoulder follow at the hands of Dr. Ross Wilkins, a pioneer of bone transplants. (That doctor and that patient have developed a close relationship that continues yet today.) Extensive physical therapy for her shoulder follows, as does psychological therapy for the post traumatic stress disorder that had so deeply affected her life.

And later, she becomes a nurse. There’s her husband and their children, who have become the center of her life. As years pass, we learn of other events that trigger Kacey’s PTSD, and of a rare disability that arises in one of her children. (I do wish there had been more information about PTSD in the book.)

Ultimately, though, this is what we learn. Kacey Ruegsegger Johnson, once an angst-ridden teenager, once a victim of the terrors of Columbine, finds herself as an advocate for rising up and out of such horrific tragedies, speaking to groups all across the nation in favor of all that has served her – family, God, hope, and a positive attitude of survivorship.

TWO SUBZERO MEMORIES; Camp Hiawatha and Ray Dretske


A Camp Hiawatha Luther League Retreat (January 1972) and
How Governor Carlson’s state-wide school closing affected a visiting musician/clinician at Pillager Public Schools (February 1996)

This latest cold snap (you may also add crackle and pop if you wish) reminded me of two of the coldest winters of my life: If you were part of either of these, feel free to add your memories . . .

PART I – Camp Hiawatha

Senior year in high school, I believe, and our church group (Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Virginia, MN) headed for a scheduled retreat at Camp Hiawatha, just outside Deer River, MN. I believe, too, we were joined by kids from a Lutheran church up in Babbitt … Names I recall include Mark Eskola, Dave Stimac, Ralph Martin, Julie Wiklund, Phyllis Carlson, Sharon Dahl, and Charlie Luing (she was one of the Babbitt gang….) I used to have pictures, but I can’t find them ….)

It was a weekend worth of the usual youth group activities at such an affair: games, Bible studies, services, music, conversations – all intended to be part of the Luther League member’s growth. I believe it was the last week of January, and we headed up, carpooling in several cars. Camp Hiawatha is a very nice camp on the shores of Deer Lake – the camp had a main building and several cabins for sleeping. The grounds were wide open – in the summer, one could play baseball, volleyball, and the like. In the winter, I believe we did some sliding down the hill from the main building to the lake, but mostly, I remember how terribly cold it was – below zero: I’m thinking -25 with no wind. I vaguely remember the routine activities mentioned – but there were a few: We were broken into groups, each group assigned a parable to act out — the most memorable: Ralph Martin’s portrayal of a land owner who agrees to pay everyone the same, no matter if they had been working since morning or if they only worked an hour. Each time one of his workers was hired, Ralph announced the going rate. In the best Mesabi Iron Range accent of all time, he said, “I will pay ye a dollar a day.” For those who don’t care, that’s fine, but to us, it was hilarious.

As for the cold, this was back in the day of carburetors – no electronic ignition systems, no remote starters. So, many of us stayed up during the night, starting cars and letting them run as the deep dark starry cold weighed down on the campers and the cars — the exhaust rose straight up into the dead still air – but in any case, we survived the horrid cold, returning home having been tempered by the weather and by Iron Range/Lutheran theology.

PART II – Ray Dretske

RAY DRETSKE, jazz musician (sax) and music technology guru, visited the Pillager School Music Department in the last weekend of January, into February of 1996. Ray brought his knowledge of the latest in computer programs that would process music – we learned to program 16 different tracks of music, including a bass line, a melody, accompaniment – how to vary tempos, how to assign different instruments to each track – it was the latest that could be found back then. A good deal of the time was based on the twelve bar blues.

On the last day of Ray’s visit, Governor Carlson closed all public schools in the state on Friday, Feb. 2, 1996 – which meant the handful of kids that Ray had been working with individually were not going to be able to finish their compositions — well, Ray and I talked that morning, and we decided to head over to Pillager, and I would contact those students, offering them a chance to come in and work one last time with Ray. Some did: I particularly recall that Adam Maas and April Kobs came in. We spent the morning working on compositions and playing along with some of the other music Ray brought with him for us to enjoy and learn. We worked through the morning and broke up around noon, when we helped Ray pack up all the stuff into has van and we said goodbye.

And you’re wondering how the cold affected us — it all has to do with Ray’s van.

I got to school and opened up by 8 a.m. Eventually, the kids arrived, and then in came Ray, with what I could only say was the coldest face I’ve ever seen. The guy was in chilled pain right down to the bone and into the marrow.

What had happened? Ray went out to start his van (he was at the Super 8 motel in Baxter – a ten-mile drive to Pillager) and when he closed the driver’s door to head out, the window shattered into all those tiny little beads of glass you get when you shatter automotive safety glass…. And here it was, subzero temperatures and wind chills in around fifty below, and Ray – with no other choice at hand – drove the ten miles to Pillager with his window out. Ergo, the frozen face and all that went with it.

Thanks to our head custodian Doug Loftis, Ray was able to park his van in the industrial arts room (it had a garage stall for automotive classes), where Doug found some cardboard to cover the broken window while Ray and I and the kids did our thing that morning. (Super thanks to Doug for that special assistance ….)

I’ve never seen someone so cold as I saw Ray that morning – and what a story it gave us to tell. Just this week, I found Ray on Facebook, just to say hello and to reminisce, and wouldn’t you know, he tells that story as much as I do.

Thanks Ray for the lessons. Thanks, Adam and April and the others who I don’t remember, for coming in that morning. And thanks, Doug, for the time you took to solve a problem.

A couple of Bowling Firsts . . .

jacks house
Well, here’s something new for me at 65 years, one month and 11 days old . . .

Wednesday was our usual senior coffee break bowling league day … but this time, it was for the city tournament rounds for this year. Our team did subpar, but oh well. During the time, raffle tickets were passed out to give away free registration for the singles and doubles events in the city tournament… long story short, I WON! Sunday I will do the singles event and then Saturday the 26th, by bowling buddy Frank Welter will join me for the doubles. SWEET!

But wait, there’s more . . . Ginger, one of the owners of JACK’S HOUSE (our bowling place in Brainerd) made an announcement. She had been contacted by an advertising agency in the cities, and they were looking for a place to do a commercial showing seniors doing their bowling thing … and THERE WE ARE! So, she announced that Thursday (yesterday) the crew would be in the place to shoot a commercial for UCARE (you know ..the ones where five people ride into the scene on a five-person tandem bike and talk insurance….). All of us were invited .. well, okay, 20 to 30, to come and be extras in the commercial. Pay? Why, yes, thank you … fifty bucks each! The catch? Call time was 5:45 a.m. In the morning. Early in the morning. Stinkin’ early in the morning.

And you know, 12 of us showed up; great people, all of them, including a guy who I’ve known since I came here in 1976 … I taught his kids over in Pillager, and some of his grandkids, too. So, to Gary …. THANKS for the fun … some were selected to be part of the actual commercial filming, and the rest of us were extras, bowling in the background, doing walk-behinds to make it look like the place was crowded, etc etc etc. It was a FINE time! In that time (I didn’t get busy until about 6:30) I bowled 11 games, ending at 9:00 am or so. Well, just call me old rubber arm…. Btw, my best was a 204.

It was great! I’d do it again … and it was fascinating to watch how a commercial is made … they had a crew of about 30 people – writers, lighting, sound, props, cameramen, wardrobe – they were all there.

When you see a UCARE commercial later this year, and its at a bowling alley, look for me. I’m the one in the pale green polo shirt.

Trump and Pelosi/Schumer Prime Time

Based totally on the prime-time speech: (and if you respond, please stick to the prime time speeches as well.)

Both President Trump and Dems Pelosi/Schumer convinced no one.

For the Dems: Please tell me why you keep referring to tantrums and such. President Trump has been accused of that type of behavior before. Whether it is true or not doesn’t matter. What matters is the old rule that says, “IT IS FOLLY TO KEEP DOING THE SAME THING AND EXPECT DIFFERENT RESULTS.” Cut the tantrum bit – it hasn’t worked and won’t work. To get something different, you need to try something different. The point they brought up that I agreed with: The wall and the government shutdown are not exclusive. The Wall will or will not exist, whether the government is operating or not … and the government will or will not operate whether there is a wall or not.

For President Trump: I scratch my head in wonder over the use of the word ‘humanitarian’. Its only been the last week (or less) in claiming that the wall is a humanitarian matter. The claim during this speech as that women and children were hurt/maimed/etc by the thugs who were joining in the caravans. In October, those caravans were characterized as being populated by thugs and terrorists and drug dealers – there was no concern at all for the women and children then, why is that concern there now? What’s different? Nothing.

President Trump refered to ‘rising above partisan politics. Well, yes. Of course. He’s correct. But again, pretty much all of Washington has been using this phrase for decades – I return to “IT IS FOLLY TO KEEP DOING THE SAME THING AND EXPECT DIFFERENT RESULTS”. Both parties need to learn this lesson.

He said we must stop the drugs, because they are killing our American citizens at amazing numbers (I don’t care whether the numbers are accurate or not – we MUST stop the drug flow.) Time for a mind game: If I’m a drug lord making huge profits, overcoming a 2000 mile wall is nothing – nothing at all. If those profits are as huge as we are told (and those profits are indeed huge, and have been for years) I as a drug lord would simply find a way around that wall – and they’ll do it.

So, Mr. President, I agree that the wall is ONE way to solve the issues you mentioned that night, but it is not the ONLY way.

Putting our federal employees out of work just doesn’t seem to be worth the wall. That’s my takeaway for this.

Book Review: THE LILY OF THE WEST by Kathleen Morris

Lily cover
Subtitle: The Untold Story of the Notorious “Big Nose Kate”
By Kathleen Morris
343 pages
ISBN13: 9781432847333
Published by Five Star
Gale, Cengage Learning

A western about a woman, and the word “Lily” is in the title. So, do you find yourself expecting a Harlequin Romance story in the midst of a tale of the Old West?

The title just doesn’t cover it. Well, yes, there are signs of elegance and fine breeding, but Kate Haroney Elder was certainly more than a lily – she also succeeded at poker, at cooking, at horse training. Blessed with a beautiful singing voice, (hence the LILY title) she could soothe even the most vile cowboy with her version of “Aura Lee” or an Irish folk song. Self-assured, strong willed, intelligent, and educated in European schooling, Kate could speak French, quote Shakespeare and discuss the Greek civilizations, but then she could also employ a degree of stubborn attitude or use a sharp tongue that had no hesitation in using brash language usually expected from the miners in the shafts of the local silver mines.

Such a strong woman deserves to be the center of a book. Kathleen Morris, through a great deal of research and literary taste, delivers Kate’s story from all angles. With an interesting vocabulary that blends both the literate world of a Europe and an educated lady with the raucous cowboy vernacular, Ms. Morris writes with a strong tone, delivering more than a biography of a quite well-known figure of the Old West. The reader also gets the usual Old West plot lines: gunfights, card games, stage coach rides, and the typical main street towns like Dodge City.

We learn of Kate’s early years, and how she got to be part of those serving Emperor Maximilian in Mexico. We see her struggle through moves that cover Iowa and St. Louis, and then how she rides her adventures to the Old West, including Dodge City, Las Vegas (New Mexico, that is), Tombstone, and several points surrounding. In each setting, author Ms. Morris brings us the sights, sounds and aromas of the wide arena that is Kate’s life. We smell her excellent cooking, we smell her perfume as she woos the men in her life, we see and hear the world of Old West Saloon life as Kate wows the crowd with her beautiful voice and as she deals a mean game of poker. Full of life, this Kate Haroney Elder.

And in all this upbeat adventure, there is a level of tragedy. Angst of a lost family, a sharp tongue and temper, and a seemingly inability to establish lasting relationships with men (spoiler alert: except for one, sort of . . .) color the book with darker tones as the reader experiences the technicolor life of our heroine.

This is a complete, interesting arc in the life of Kate Haroney Elder – and thanks to Kathleen Morris for pointing it out to us.

Book Review: THE AGITATORS by Mike Van Lear


AGitators book cover

By Mike Van Lear
Copyright 2018
278 pages
ISBN 9781982993573

A story out of the headlines: hatred for a certain ethnic group (in this case, Muslims) finds the United States facing a presidential election between a rather ineffective incumbent and a candidate who reviles the Muslims. And as one would hope, there is a good deal behind the story. We find out quite in depth why the one candidate is so afoul of the Muslim. We meet, too, a secret service agent on the last year of his work for the government who feels a strong obligation to protect the incumbent – enough so that his retirement is delayed. Who will win the election? Oh, you know, but at the same time, you don’t know.

The story takes place in the near future: in the 2020s. With few exceptions, all locations are within the borders of the United States. We follow the life of each main character. The hateful candidate, Dutch Chapman, comes from a rather closed and hidden past that forms him into a man of amoral political skill; all is done to advance himself. We also meet the secret agent, Lou Denslow, whose decision to retire rides upon the shoulders of his father, an old friend, and the return of an old love affair. The chapters alternate (in general) between the two characters as we meet the people in their lives, the conditions, and the thoughts of our main characters.

There are a few things that seem off to me within the book: First, the title is immaterial to the book – the AGITATORS is the name given to the anti-Muslim sect, but they are secondary to the Dutch Chapman character. Secondly, Chapman’s mother, a rather important character, is named “Ester” – which in most cases we would find it as “ESTHER” . . . maybe not a big deal in some minds, but nonetheless it was distracting to me. Thirdly, the story moves along well enough, but some scenes are longer than they need to be – and some don’t even need to be there. The conclusion, which has some clever moments, occurs simply too quickly. Too much of the book deals with developing the conflict between the two characters (pages 1 through 256) and then the whole story wraps up in 22 pages. I would have liked to read less about the characters and more about the details of the conclusion. I won’t say more to avoid any spoiler situations.

There are some satisfying aspects in this novel; the urban areas of Minneapolis are strong, and the scenes in northeast Minnesota, too, are quite real . . . that might be because I am from familiar with those parts of the state. Of the lesser characters, I enjoyed Carissa, the rekindled love of Denslow’s past – a woman in charge of her own fate, with personality to match. I felt intrigued by the nasty side of those characters (some from his childhood, some from his recent days in the book) who developed Chapman into the ruthless politician he became . . . not that they were good people, but to see that such characteristics are out there was interesting.

So though there are some flaws in the story, Mr. Van Lear delivers a topical spin in these days of uncertainty in our political interests.