Posts from the ‘Weekly Journal’ Category

Week 48 – A Christmas Story for 2015

Beanie’s Earliest Christmas Memory

Christmas traditions come in all kinds of families, and in all kinds of ways.  The Herbert family was no different.


Any Christmas card found in the Herbert mailbox found itself taped to the woodwork along the ledge of the basement stairs.  The Coca-Cola Santa Claus had to be hanging on the front door every year. Oh, what debates would occur if anyone suggested otherwise.  Certain ornaments had to be in certain locations on the Christmas tree.  The Christmas stockings had to be hanging in the same order every year; oldest to youngest from left to right.


This particular year, Uncle Dave and Aunt Meg and their four kids arrived for a Christmas visit.  Once they brought in their Christmas presents and their suitcases, they all attended the afternoon service at church.   Upon their return, a Christmas dinner was in order.  Beanie’s mom and Aunt Meg set the table with the good silverware and dishes, real cloth napkins, and even stemmed glassware, destined to be filled water, milk, or even wine for the adults.  A platter of ham ruled the center of the table, accompanied by bowls of steaming hot mashed potatoes, cream corn, and all the olives and pickles Beanie could sneak on his plate without his mother swatting his fingers with the gravy ladle.  All were called to the table, a table grace was said, everyone ate all they could and then a dessert of either pumpkin or apple pie was served with ice cream.


It was the traditional event after dinner, though, that held Beanie’s anticipation and excitement.  It made Beanie feel that Christmas had arrived in full force.  All other family traditions and practices as lavish and fine as the Christmas dinner dwindled in comparison.  Just the thought of the after-dinner activity would make Beanie’s heart race with excitement.


Despite his enthusiasm, it seemed to Beanie that it took so very long just to get the dirty dishes cleared, even with everybody helping.  The dishes had to be brought to the kitchen for a good washing, and the cloth napkins and tablecloth stashed in the bins down in the basement laundry room.  Any leftovers had to be wrapped in foil or put in Tupperware and stored appropriately.  All of this took no more than half an hour, but for Beanie, it was a good pile of time wasted.


Yet, there was more waiting.  The entire event had to wait for the arrival of even more family members, who had been at their own homes with their own dinner and cleanup routines to attend to before they could come to the Herbert house.  The waiting tore at Beanie’s patience and anticipation of the evening.   His mother made him entertain his cousins in the living room where they sat on the floor playing card games like “Go Fish” or “Old Maid” as they waited.  Christmas music played throughout the house.  By the time the additional family members arrived, Beanie and his cousins had heard Bing Crosby, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Ella Fitzgerald, and even a recording by the local high school choir.


And then, with little warning, it all began.  Cars pulled up in front of the house, dispensing more people into the Herbert home.  Beanie saw people at the front door, hearing voices of more relatives giving their greetings of “Merry Christmas” and such similar comments.  The new arrivals removed their coats, hanging them in the front closet or giving them to Beanie’s dad who threw them on a bed in the front guest room.  Simultaneously, a coffee pot and a plate of cookies appeared from the kitchen.  Couches and chairs found themselves filled with people.


And then . . . oh, and then . . . Beanie heard a knock at the door as a very special voice came from the other side.


“Merry Christmas!  Merry Christmas!  Ho Ho Ho!!”  This voice from behind the door resounded with great gusto and seasonal cheer.  Beanie was too excited to notice who opened the door, but once that door was opened, in marched Santa, as real as the entire world could possibly be.  Nobody could tell Beanie otherwise.  The waiting was over; Santa was here in all his glory, dressed head to toe in his red hat, jacket and pants, all trimmed with white fur.  His polished black boots reflected the colorful blue-green-red-white lights from the Christmas tree.  His large beard and his bushy eyebrows were as white as the snow that had fallen that morning.


The Herbert home rang with cheers and whoops as Santa unshouldered a large sack that looked as if it was so full of goodies that it would rip apart at the slightest shake.  The minutes flew by as Santa greeted each adult individually with hugs for the women and strong handshakes for the men.  Camera flashes went off over and over again.  His face was all smiles, his voice full of joy and merriment.  His presence in the room amplified the fun of the season.


Next, he turned to the kids.  Santa put his hands on his hips and leaned back to stretch out his legs and spine.  “Oh, those reindeer aren’t giving me as smooth a ride as they used to.  They must need new shoes.  My sleigh ride was quite a bit bumpier that I remember.  Maybe it’s my old age.”


The kids laughed at the thought, crowding around each other as more cameras flashed.  Some greeted Santa with a shy hello, others just looked up and stared.  The youngest cousin, little Paul, scampered and hid behind Uncle Dave’s knees.  More cameras flashed at the activity.


Santa finished stretching and leaned forward to the children.  “Who’s ready for a present or two?”

Great shouts of “ME! ME!” filled the room, along with jumps and waving hands as the kids reacted to his question.


“I need all of you to sit down here right in front of me.  Young ones closest to me, old ones in the back.”  With a wink, he added, “That’s because you old ones get your presents last.”  More laughs, more giggles.


Santa asked for a chair.  Beanie urged his dad to hurry up for Santa, please, hurry.  Dad headed into the kitchen and returned with a chair and set it down behind Santa, who plopped down on it with a big vocal ‘humph”.  Placing a pair of reading glasses on his nose, he reached for his bag and pulled out a present.    “This one says it’s for Snoozie.  Who’s Snoozie?”  He looked across the children with a perplexed face.


“That’s me, Santa.  But I’m Susie, not Snoozie!”  Santa apologized, blaming his fogged-over glasses.  He handed the gift to the young girl in her yellow dress.  “Open it carefully and save the bow,” he instructed her.  With great care, Susie opened the brightly wrapped package. It was a My Little Pony set, just what she had hoped it was.  “Santa, how did you know?”  I only told mom and dad that I wanted this!”  She hurried over to show her parents.  Oohs and aahs rose from the adults as Susie made her way around the room to show everyone her treasure.


After that, it was mostly a blur for Beanie.  He heard more wrong names called and saw more packages opened, but most of the time he kept his eye on Santa’s big bag, wondering when his would come out next.  He could hardly breathe because of his excitement.


Then Santa called out for someone named Barney.  No one responded.  Santa said, “Barney?  Who’s Barney?”  Aroused by his dad, Beanie perked up.  “Do you mean me, Santa?  I’m Beanie. It’s me!”


Santa took his glasses off, rubbed them against his jacket and placed them back on his nose, taking a closer look at the tag on the package.  “Why, yes I do, young man.  Here you go.”


Santa handed Beanie a long, tube-shaped package.  A baseball bat?  It seemed too long and too fat for that for that.  A fishing rod?  Same problem – too fat, too long.  Whatever it was, it was heavy and wrapped quite tightly.  For Beanie’s money, too, there was too much tape on it.   He started opening it at one end, clearing just a very small piece paper off the top of one end of the tube.  It was then that he saw what it was.


Beanie couldn’t believe it. It appeared to be a cloth-like material.  There was no mistaking what it was. He tried to hide the disappointment in his voice.   “A rug?  A rolled up rug?”  His heart fluttered in confusion.  What would a six-year-old boy do with a rug for a Christmas present?  Beanie kept up what he considered his Christmas face as best he could, but he kept thinking, “A stupid rug!  It’s a stupid rug!”


Santa offered to help Beanie with the tape along the length of the rug.  After what seemed like a half an hour, all the paper was off the rug.  It lay on the floor, still rolled up tightly.  Beanie could tell he was about ready to cry, but he knew he just couldn’t do that.  He kept all that  inside as best he could.


“A rug.  A lousy, crummy rug.”  That’s all Beanie could think.


Then Santa spoke up and suggested that the rug be unrolled.  He pointed out the two plastic straps tied around the rug.  Uncle Dave took out his pocket knife and cut through the straps, allowing the rug to loosen itself out of its coil.


Beanie now had no other choice.  The other kids moved out-of-the-way, seeing that Beanie would need room to open the rug all the way.  Beanie grabbed the exposed end of the rug and unrolled it.


He was stunned at the image on the rug.  This rug, which he had thought at first was a huge failure as a Christmas present was the most amazing thing Beanie had ever seen in his whole life.


There, laying on the floor before him, was a four-foot by six-foot rug, containing full length drawings of each and every single Power Ranger on TV.  The colors shimmered in the light, especially when someone took a picture with a flash on their camera.  They were all there – Blue Ranger, Red, Ranger, Green Ranger, Yellow Ranger – and there, right smack in the middle, stood Beanie’s favorite, the Black Ranger.  They were all standing with their right foot slightly forward, their left hand on their hip, right hand pointing out to Beanie as if to beckon him to join them in the rug.  The words “Power Rangers” appeared above their heads in bright three-dimensional red and yellow lettering.  It couldn’t be any better – Beanie’s favorite superheroes right here in front of him in bright, fresh colors – and it was for him, and only him.


His earlier mood of disappointment evaporated quickly.  His face, which he had kept as blank as he could to hide his disappointment erupted into a huge smile as his eyes opened wide.  He knelt down, ran his hand along the rug from left to right and back again, finally stopping on the Black Ranger.  It was superb.  It was a dynamite gift.


Beanie finally squeaked out a “Thanks, Santa!” with a voice that sounded just a little bit choked up.  He stuck out his hand to shake with Santa, but his eyes never left the vision that was his new Power Rangers rug.  It was going to be in his bedroom forever.  This was the coolest.  This was the greatest.


Eventually the evening’s excitement subsided.  Santa left first, making an excuse that he had to feed his reindeer.  The guests who had come in the cars received their coats, got dressed, and left.  Beanie’s mom, Uncle Dave and Aunt Meg went to a late evening church service.  His dad stayed home to serve as the babysitter, putting all the kids to bed.  Beanie took his Ranger rug up to his room with him, carefully placing it on his floor.  He lined it up squarely with the side of the bed and put on his pajamas.  After brushing his teeth, he returned to his room, took a good long look at the marvelous, wondrous rug.  He wished each of the Rangers one by one a good night and a Merry Christmas.  With a warm feeling in his heart, he slept.





Week 35 – For my Brother in Law on his 60th Birthday


cher ger

My sister Cher and my bro-in-law Gerry.


Today is my first brother-in-law’s birthday. Gerry Anderson has been around the Johnson family for – well, since 1968 by my recall, when he started hanging out with my little sister Cheryl. They dated throughout their public school years and then married in 1976, just a few days after I returned from a trip to Europe with the Gustavus Adolphus Jazz Band and Pop Choir – there’s s story there that involves Ger’s nice hot Camaro, a meal of hot dogs, and me suffering from jet lag, but that’s not what this blog entry is all about.

Anderson, Ger

Gerry, visiting me in the early years of my time in Brainerd. 1977.

Gerry is quite the guy. He and my sister make a whale of a married team – as well as any married couple I know. Gerry is industrious – he earned a college degree while he was working – and has worked for several companies, and owned his own. He is highly talented with skills involving tools (oh, I wish I fit into that category . . .) – which makes him awful handy to have around when the drier quits working or there’s some rewiring needed somewhere. He is a dedicated husband, a great father to his 3 sons (Hey – sounds like a TV show we used to know), and just a good buddy to all his pals – I include me in that group.
He and I have shared some good times – early on, he and I dealt in swapping favors involving camera equipment and travel – and speaking of travel, the four of us (Ger and Cher, Wilma and me) did a cruise to Mexico, which was a great time.
Gerry enjoys his ethnic heritage – no person I know can fire up and enjoy a sauna like Gerry does. (To you neophytes out there – that’s pronounced “SOW-NAH”.) He thoroughly enjoys his extended family – over the years, I’ve seen him revel with his siblings, enjoy his aunt’s cooking, and being dedicated to his mother. He is a serious hunter (Deer, elk, pheasant) – a hobby he has passed onto his sons, who revere him in the same way Gerry reveres his own roots.
Spoiled? Not Gerry – unless you add in his granddaughter. Then the guy is wrapped around that tiny little finger so very firmly and lovingly.

Gerry and granddaughter Raelyn.

Happy Birthday, Gerry Anderson. May there be a good 60 more years.

Week 34 – Protesting and Demonstrating with a Purpose

I have been a teachers’ union member and have gone to school board meetings when it came to protesting teacher cuts or some other educational issue. It would make no sense to go to the local gas station and expect my protests to be heard and/or acted on.

I joined in on a few OCCUPY sessions in our town. We stood outside the city hall once when the issue was government control. We stood outside a bank once when the issue was the whole banking controversy a few years back. It would make no sense for such a group to picket a cub scout meeting.

It makes sense for the pilots of SunCountry airlines to picket when they are in negotiations for a new contract. This just happened in our state, and their actions made sense. However, if they were to picket at a local knitting shop, it would have made no sense.

When Black Lives Matter demonstrates in Ferguson, I understand that. When Black Lives Matter demonstrates at Capitol Hill in Washington, I see the purpose. Recently, here in our state, Black Lives Matter demonstrated at a light rail station to protest police brutality after an incident that occurred there. That made good sense to me.

But I cannot see the sense in this. That same chapter of Black Lives Matter that protested police brutality at the train station will be demonstrating again to bring attention to police brutality. However, this time they are going to stand at the 25-mile mark of the big marathon race in the town, disrupting that race to bring attention to that same police brutality issue.

Could someone explain this to me? A marathon has no more to do with police brutality than a gas station has to do with teachers, or the local OCCUPY group to show up at a cub scout meeting, or pilots at a car dealership.

I hear it already. They have the right to protest. Yes, oh my and that’s a big DOUBLE YES you bet they do. It just seems to me that when you protest something, you are somewhere connected with the source of the issue. Take that demonstration elsewhere, and people will not necessarily understand. Your group may suffer a credibility problem.

Like I said, could someone explain? Please?

Week 33 Stephanie and Michael and Vance and Steven

Once upon a time, about 30 years ago, I handed an alto clarinet to a new girl in the school.  Julie enjoyed band, (she did pretty well with that horn, as I recall) and we got along well – to the point of where we kidded each other.  I told her she reminded me of Stephanie from the NEWHART show – you know who I mean; the dingy blond maid in the Vermont Inn, run by Dick and Joanne Louden.  Julie picked up the idea and referred to me as Michael, also of the NEWHART show – the shallow-minded tv exec. who drove everyone else nuts with his trivia.  It became a thing for us as we played our roles.  Julie was a student just for that year – maybe a bit longer.


Once upon a time, not quite so long ago as that, it became my duty to take my 5-year-old son Steven to the Early Childhood classes which were sponsored by our local school district.  As he and I sat on the floor, another young lad joined us, and I heard that familiar voice, in the proper Stephanie intonation and whine, “Michael!  What are you doing here?”


Yes, it was Julie, now married and with her son Vance.   The reunion for the two of us was fun – we got right back into the joke of being on NEWHART, and our boys played together while Julie and I got caught up on the last few years.


Once upon a time, even more recent, our boys had become the best of friends.  In elementary school, the boys would get together at one of the homes and just go to it.  They played, they talked, they fooled around.  They invented their own games.  Mostly, however, they built things with Legos and Construx or anything else they could get their hands on.  We parents marveled at their ingenuity and at their witty aptitude at building things.  There were cars and planes and boats and rubber band guns, all of which got built, tested, modified and rebuilt as the boys saw fit.


Once upon a time, as the boys got older, their aptitude to build and work together developed even further.  There were video games to conquer, paint ball guns to learn to use (safely, I might add – these boys were not prone to being rash and careless . . .) and so many other things.  Steven got a few lessons in welding from Vance’s dad Brian.  Vance picked up a few things from his time here at our house.  There was always something for the two boys going on – something fruitful and good.


Once upon a time, the boys graduated from high school, and still remained in touch.  Vance stayed in town and developed his own computer business.  Steven went off to college and earned a degree in theatre technology.  Yet apart as they were, when they got together, it was as if nothing had changed.  They boys now talked about constructing careers.  They talked about the finer points of their interests, sharing as only two very good friends can do.  They had their social lives as well, so they also discussed girls and dating – Steven was more active in that area first, but Vance caught up on his own, which brings me to the purpose of today’s writing. . .


And just this weekend, Vance married Alyssa.  Steven was the best man.  We attended the reception, where I danced with Julie – we both took on our NEWHART personas for a bit and had a good laugh.  Who knew, we mused, those many years ago, that our sons would be so tight, such good friends.


For me, it is a fun little quirk in my teaching career; having my son become such good friends with the son of a former student – and for the two families to so much enjoy the whole friendship as we watched it develop.


And so I wish Vance and Alyssa a very happy marriage – and I look forward to seeing what is next for the Vance/Steven connection. And HERE is the happy couple . . . (photo from Alyssa’s page…)
Vance an Alyssa Walsh

Week 32 – My Wife Wilma

My Wife Wilma

Sue and Me in Cologne

I have been gone for a month from my blog – only because Wilma and I took a 20 day trip to Europe, thoroughly enjoying ourselves as we boated from Amsterdam to Vienna – but more on that later, and I will make up for those missed weeks on this blog as time goes on, especially with some words about that trip.

This is Wilma’s birthday week, and if you’ve been following this blog, you’ll find I’ve been writing about significant people in my life as their birthdays come up. Wilma is next. And no, you don’t get to know her real name… “WILMA” has become quite a fun joke on this blog.

We’ve been married 32 years now. Wilma has been a superb partner for me. She has taken care of me in so many ways – she is my go-to. If I need to discuss something, she’s there. She sees that I have good meals. She sees to it that I take care of myself. She and I have teamed in raising two very fine kids – and I thank her for all of this.

Those of you that know her have seen a woman who works hard – who has a work ethic that is unsurpassable. She retired after teaching over three decades, where she taught high school music, elementary music, and a handful of years in special education. She has served as church choir director where she was admired and respected for her work there. She has been a driving force for 3 years of the music festival here in town – none work harder – well, maybe AS hard, but not harder.

She has been on the community theatre stage often – and we’ve shared that interest since the beginning, when we met. She was the rehearsal pianist for GUYS AND DOLLS at the local community theatre, and I came in to audition. Since then, we’ve been in many shows together – OKLAHOMA, RUTHLESS, a couple of the DON’T HUG ME plays, and two CHURCH BASEMENT LADIES. More to come, I’m sure.

Add to that a local choir that we’ve been members, where we’ve had some fine vocal experiences that in some ways rival some of the best musical experiences of our life – and since we were both music teachers, that is quite a list.

At home, we have our different interests, but we also share a great deal. We read, we take in movies, plays, and tv shows, we like much of the same foods – it goes on and on.

So during her birthday week, I thank Wilma for all she has been to me. I wish her a good many more years of good living and joy.

Week 31 OUTRAGE!


You could make your own list. This one is just a start.

Lions and Dentists
Abortions pro and con
Walleyes and Lake Mille Lacs
Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump
Flat Footballs and Brady
Precious Metals mining in NE Minnesota
Guns, pro and con
Voting rights
Mass shootings
Oil drilling in Alaska
Oil Pipelines through Minnesota
… and this is just recent things in the news

Do you sense it? Outrage is out there. It is coming from all kinds of people. Old, young, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, various ethnic groups, proponents of this and that, opponents of this and that . . .

I am guilty of outrage myself. I’m guessing so are you. And so is the guy down the street and the lady in the laundromat and the banker and the butcher. And the little kid in the barber chair and the . . . well, it seems like everyone has an ax to grind.

And do you notice how in the media (whether its social media like Facebook or the journalism media members) that name calling and insults are the rule of the day? It seems rare to watch a news show where diatribes don’t get a bunch of the news.

And this outrage sometimes is directed in places you wouldn’t expect. Close, personal friends get teed off at each other. Families argue at the dinner table.

We are all angry about something or someone. Where does it come from? Why is it so rampant? Better yet, how do we tone it down?

My theory – we have developed a certain insensitivity to others. We have forgotten what it is like to actually consider that the other person is every bit as sure of their thoughts as we are of our own. We have started to think that if someone differs with us, they are a bad person. We have been conning ourselves with such thinking. Maybe this arises from our displeasure with our government’s gridlock. Maybe it comes from the ridiculousness of stories we see on the news – or what passes for news (and no, I don’t necessarily mean FOX or MSNBC . . . consider also the ‘news’ shows like ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT and TMZ.)

I think we have forgotten how to be empathic – not just sympathetic; we have lost the skill of sensing how others feel. We have forgotten how to sense what others are feeling and saying. We have diminished the value of good listening skills, of compassion, of true patience.

So look, if you catch yourself getting your neck hairs up, maybe stop a bit and take stock of your motives. Is it really all that crucial to get angry? Is there a better way to handle news you don’t like?

There is more fruit in such things as that. Let’s get rid of the weeds of the negativity and grow us some good stuff.

Week 30 – My sister Jean

With this week’s blog, I wish to say a few words about a gentle, musical lady I know.

tcgm 2014 Shirley Jean Aria

My Sister Jean

I refer to my sister Jean. She has always been so good to talk with for words of wisdom, for words of direction, for words of calm. Even as teens, we had ‘bathtub talks’, where we would sit in the bathtub at home (fully clothed, for those who need it explained to them) … and discuss matters of all sorts.

She is the oldest of the three of us – so she led the way through all those family milestones from first days of schools, to piano lessons in second grade, to confirmation, to getting that driver’s license, to college. She did all this quietly, calmly, and with a seemingly steady demeanor all the way. I can say I never saw her outwardly angry – at least not that I can remember. Sad, yes. Hurt to her insides, yes. Silly, oh my, goodness, yes! Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure she can become angry – I’ve just not seen the kind of anger that comes with yelling/hitting/screaming kinds of behavior.

But what I have seen has come with listening and love and compassion – add your own positive words to the list and you’d be right. Need to have someone listen to get a different outlook on something? Jean is good at it. Then, when she’s done being good at that, she’ll be good at doling out some words that will be helpful and useful. This will often come in a form of a question, as she leads you to a solution.

And have you heard her music? She started on piano with mom as teacher when Jean was in second grade (as did we all … ) then she stepped up to the piano lady of the area, Dorothea Helenius Thomes, who had her playing all the usual piano stuff … the later John Thompson books, then into Clementi and Hanon and all the skill building stuff .. and then into Grieg’s piano concerto, Beethoven Sonatas … and organ at church wax next .. and quick, can you name another ninth grader who accompanied an entire production of AMAHL AND THE NIGHT VISITORS? Probably not. Choir accompanist, etc etc… even through college.

She and her husband Tim Johnson (yep – Jean never had to change her name) … have been together a long time, and have two good kids in Karin and Joel . . . it has been good to see these parents and their kids become such friends .. and a good deal of that is due to Jean’s gentleness and wisdom … add to that the granddaughters Cadance and Aria, and you have one pretty fine lady full of love for her family.

So Happy Birthday, Jean…. Best big sister ever.


Jean and Tim