Friday, May 8, 2009

My Friend Bob

I have had a penchant of writing about people whom I respected, admired or just genuinely liked. Bob Johnson was one of the above --maybe all of the above. He was married to my cousin, Barb and our family came to know them when we came to Minnesota in 1963. They opend their arms to us and our kids and we spent many very enjoyable times with them at their home but mostly at their lake place in a northern part of the state. Bob was a very interesting man-sometimes sullen or grumpy but when you knew him, this was all a sham. For some reason, he would pretend to be cataracterised as a uncooperative person but the minute you asked him for some form of help, he was immediately ready with his tool belt. He had been a gymnast for the Un. of Minnesota and there was still a semblance of his athletic body but as is the case in many of us, as his hair disappeared, his stomach seem to compensate. He might be leaning toward portly but again it meant nothing when it came to being of service for someone--possibly even a stranger. I can't tell you the many time he came to my assistance maybe in the construction of my back yard shed, my family room and sundry other things. When I needed help, he was the first one I called, no, the only one. And I was not unique! Was it his ego that propelled him to be of assistance to others? I doubt it. Under that gruff exterior he was a people person and he would always find time to be a friend. What a wonderful accolade that was. He died about two years ago and I miss him a lot! He was my fishing buddy and we managed to get in a trip to some nether region to try to catch fish for the 40 years of our relationship. He had spent about three years building the cabin I spoke of and I mean building. He was a most handy person and it didn't matter the problem, he would find a way to take care of it Carpentry, plumbing, electricity were all a part of his talents and we were the recipients of all of those at some time or other. I could go on a long time extolling his virtues or his talents but suffice it to say Minnesota will never be what it once was. In many ways Bob was the catalyst that enlightened our lives in those days that have past. Sleep well Robert, I know you are carrying your tool belt around even now.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Is This All There Is?

An unusual occurrance took place last week. I was seeing double and unable to hold a fork in my fingers and additionally couldn't focus on my conversation and therefore couldn't complete a sentence. What's happening I said to myself? Thanks to the bullying of a near by neighbor, he convinced me that I needed to get to a hospital. I prevailed on my daughter to drive there and I was taken into the Emergency immediately. It turned out my blood/sugar had plummeted to a reading of 31---unheard of!!After pumping some sweet stuff into an open IV I was placed in a square surrounded by curtains. In an adjacent cubicle such as mine, I could hear an elderly woman rambling on in an hallucinatory manner. A short time later as I was drowsily lying there wondering if they were going to move me to a room, I heard a slight rustling as if someone had entered the room. Not wanting to exert too much energy, I opened one eye to see if someone was there. There was!! I saw an elderly woman with a long face, a long droopy nose and yellowish hair hanging below her shoulders. My first thought was it must be the woman next door that had wandered into my room by mistake. An immediate next thought that flashed through my mind was the question"Is this all there is"?At my age I give some minor thought to my own mortality and this was a rather shocking revelation. No bands of Angels to carry me to an upper level? No crowds of friends and relatives welcoming me to the next phase? At this point I thought I had better open both eyes to see what was going on. My life may not have been one of perfection but didn't I deserve something more than an elderly woman who was just staring at me without a sound. Now that I was wide awake I looked again but the woman had disappeared and it was then I realized what I had seen was an impression created by the patterning and coloring of the drapes surrounding my area. There was no woman, just my sleepy impression of one. However, that fleeting impression has left me with a prevailing thought--- What, if indeed, this is all there is when I step into this next stage and all the mysteries that have been created by various philosophers, ministers and the like who don't have a clue as to what will take place. And so I leave you with the haunting possibility and a question"Is This All There Is"?

Tuesday, January 8, 2008


I was in the 8th grade when Mrs Schneider took an interest in me --or my singing voice to be correct. I sat in the first row and suddenly she was standing next to me. Now, I have always been a fairly confident boy ( cocky might also be appropriate) but she had a hairdue that looked like a birds nest; even a large bird. But sing away I did, not quite knowing why she was so close to me. Had I done something? Was I to be punished ? The class ended and it was the last class of the day so when she asked me to stay over, I had some real concerns. She moved over to the piano and asked me to sing a scale. You remember Do Re Mi don't you? She was seated at the piano and I was finally in a positiion to look down into her hair Much to my relief there were no birds there.This may sound silly and I suppose it is but most of us in her class often wondered about that. Wonder no more: I will explain to my classmates the full scoop. Back to the piano where she now has some popular music in front of her. She asked that I begin to sing some of it. I was quite familiar with most of it and so I sang away, when suddenly my voice began to change. I struggled to stay on pitch and she looked at me and said "Well Jimmie, we will have to enter you as a tenor". I looked at her and asked, "Enter me where?" She replied, "There is a voice contest coming up in 6 weeks and I would like to enter you into it". I looked at her, somewhat amazed and said, "Mrs Schneider, I don't know how to sing!!" Once again she replied, "Jimmie you have a lovely voice and by the end of 6 weeks you will be prepared to be the best in the city". "Wow" said I, totally at a point of confusion. That began my career in voice which scaled to the height of mediocrity. Since that day, I have sung most of the rest of my life---Glee clubs, Choirs, a Men only group, funerals and weddings. I entertained on the stage of the High School and, oh yes, I came in second at the city wide contest. I actually had begun my career on the stage at age 4 where I sang "Ice Cream, you scream, we all scream for Ice cream". My grandmother had sent me up there so she could win a bag of groceries or 6 dinner plates. I had to do it the next week also, so she would have a total of 12 dinner plates. My career started very early and would you believe, I am still singing in various groups but am wise enough to never sing solo again. I am now on oxygen and my voice sounds like a crow had escaped into the air. It's a man of learning that knows when to quit.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


I'm sure there have been times when you have decided to do a job all the time knowing it was going to end in an accident if done in the manner you were starting. That's me! It took a long time for me to finally understand the method I was using was shorter but something was bound to happen that would make it much longer. And it usually did. I decided the ceiling at the top of the stairs coming from the cellar into the kitchen needed painting. It was a pretty simple job and I got out the kitchen step stool so I could reach the ceiling . Holding the gallon can of white paint, left over from a previous job, in my left hand I mounted the stool , wet my brush, and began the job. You understand that in the back of my mind I knew I shouldn't do the job in this manner but I proceeded anyway. That's when lightning hit the out house, to coin an expression. My stool wobbled. So did I. And so did that can of paint to the extent it leaped from my hand and went bump-a-de-bump, bump-a-de-bump all the way down the stairs managing to hit about every third step and splattering paint all over the walls and the steps. I sighed thinking to myself too soon old , too late smart and spent an hour cleaning that mess up salvaging enough paint to do the job I had started out to do, I was using a large round basin and as I completed the job, I inadvertently stepped backwards on the rim of that basin sending all that white water all over the carpeted kitchen floor. Here again I knew I shouldn't have used that basin, but it was large, if a bit unsteady. Another hour passed as I dutifully cleaned up the mess wringing the water mixture back into the basin. Finally ! I now could get that carafe of cranberry juice out of the refrigerator and as I reached for it with my paint covered hand, it slipped out and spilled all over the floor, My exasperation finally surfaced and I uttered my first profanity of the day---Damn!! Did I learn anything? Probably not. Those who don't learn from history are destined to do it again.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Quiet Octave

She said to me one Friday evening, "Oh you know what I did today? I bought a piano!! Now, not having more than two nickels to rub together, I exclaimed in a somewhat heated manner, "You did what?! "Don't worry", said she, "It only cost $5.00!" Somewhat mollified, I found the piano was old and belonged to Eddy, a friend. So I contacted 5 other guys, promised them beer and then rented a trailer. They arrived the next morning and we started out for Eddy's home.In that Eddy had a cement slab just the right height for the trailer, it was no problem running the piano right onto the trailer and as we drove away, I noticed two heavily indented tire tracks in Eddy's lawn. On arrival at my home I drove the trailer up on my cemented driveway avoiding any indentation in my lawn and we unloaded the piano onto my "stoop" (Is that term still used?) and got it most of the way into my foyer/living room. That's when the trouble began. You knew there would be trouble didn't you? A staircase coming from upstairs was in the way and I removed a wrought iron railing so that we were able to lift the piano over the base of the stairs and get it into the living room. Our objective was to get it in the room with the wall we were backed up to but I found out pianos don't BEND and we couldn't get it around the two corners required to put the beast (By now I am getting unfriendly) into was what a spare bedroom. I should explain we had a spare room only because I had worked my tail off building two rooms and a bath up stairs in our "expandable " home. So there we stood, 5 guys having a beer, while I fumed a bit . You understand this was our first home and our living room was quite small. There that blasted monster stood, heaving and smoking with all our furniture and rugs and lamps pushed to one side of the room so that we could get the piano to its destination. At this point my frustration hit a new high and in somewhat of an unpleasant voice I said to my dear wife "I am leaving for New York in one hour. You had better call someone and have that #@%o:that#%$@&*&^% taken out of here before I get home Friday night!!!!" I arrived home Friday and was greeted by that thing in the same place it was when I left. I fumed and fussed and she said she couldn't get anyone that wanted it. At which point I stated in a voice that all five of the guys that helped must have been able to hear. I might add they lived in different parts of the city. "Well then" said I, its going to rot there," and I sat in the only chair available to read my trade paper. The next night my brother, Jack, came over and asked what the piano was doing there and I replied in a sarcastic tone, "Its rotting". I explained the circumstances and he said "We can't leave it there" to which I testily said, "I can"! He went out to his car, brought in his tool box and proceeded to begin to take it apart. What a nice guy my brother turned into. I joined in and when it was down to a harp we rolled it back into the spare room. It took us until mid-night to get it back together with no pieces left over and I sat down to play it and, you probably saw this coming, not a sound emitted from the piano. At this point, with a larger dose of frustration than I have ever known, my normally, nicely modulated voice rose into a stentorian bellow and I shouted "Louise, didn't you try this piano before you bought it??" I think she had left the house rather then reply. At this point, I looked at Jack and the humor of the past week began to infect me and soon he and I are laughing . Yes, we are laughing at the piano that didn't give up a sound and for the two years it sat there, it never did.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Me 'n Mickey

In the days of my youth, which at this point seems like eons ago (It was only many decades) my older brother, Jack, had a temper of huge proportions. At the slightest opportunity when Mom wasn't looking he would pounce on me and begin flailing at me with flashing fists. Of course I was innocent of any untoward methods of provoking him. (Sure I was) At any rate, it was normal for me to burst into gales of tears and sobs even though sometimes he hadn't touched me. I knew he would attack at the slightest provocation so I usually started early to minimize my pain. It didn't do any good, he beat up on me regardless. This was a part of my growing up although, questionably it may account for the fact I never grew beyond 5'7 inches. My grandmother always called him Mickey for some unknown reason. We also had a dog named Mickey but I was an adult before I drew an anology between the two. Jack had joined the CCC, a conservation organization created by Franklin Roosevelt to help alleviate the depression through which our country was immersed. He was gone before I went into my end of the service and I assumed I might not see him again. However, it appeared he had a broken ear drum (No it was not part of my retribution) and came home about the time I went into the Navy. When the family was reunited three years later and we were all together again, it was amazing what a nice guy he turned out to be. He and his wife Betty would come over to our home and have dinner with us and he would help me with different projects and we would work side by side. One time he spent an entire day while we wheelbarrowed load after load of top soil from an empty lot behind our home. I remember one night he found a harp from an up right piano in the middle of our living room and asked what it was doing there. I replied "Its rotting" but that's a different story which shall be told ere long. After Betty died, he was a more frequent visitor and I grew to have a great appreciation for my brother. He died in a car crash a few years later and I never had a chance to remind him of the other Mickey I had known who was our dog. Jack was one of the good guys and I still miss my brother , even after all these 40 years or more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Back in the dim distant past of my youth I had basically two girl friends. The first and the most prominent was Mary. She was a fun loving, outgoing girl of seventeen and the first day I walked her home from school there were eight guys waiting for her to come home. This will give you some idea of her popularity. She really was a neat young lady that I was enamoured of but never really in love with (Is that a dangling participle?) We went together for about two years until she fell in love with some other guy. (Can you imagine that?) Our last date was graduation night from High School and it was a wonderful night filled with great big band music, a terrific ballroom, and one in which I sang a couple of songs. But it was probaly the last night Mary and I were together. She was going away to school and I was job hunting. The next one was Marion and this was a diminutive little girl that made me feel larger than I really was and I had a definite superiority complex. However that didn't last very long and I found some reason to break up. The problem with both of these young ladies was that they lived on the opposite end of the world from my home. So I walked, walked and then walked some more because I was too cheap to spend the eight and one third cents to take a street car. Three times I walked to save me twenty five cents to spend on something frivolous. However, graduation night was a triple date with six of us in Moon Bauman's borrowed car. One of the girls was Louise ---my first knowledge of her. Later there was a number of us that worked in downtown Buffalo and every Monday as many as could would meet at Andy's, a spaghetti bar/restaurant, and dined on a large plate of spaghetti for ninety nine cents including bread and butter---a feast. Louise was usually one of the group meeting there. And now you know the rest of the story. We met and slowly became very good friends. I once told my Mother "She is going to make a great wife for someone". Little did I know. The kicker to this story is that Louise only lived a short block from me. The three miles I used to walk to save a few cents was now in the past and I should have known the love of my life was only a short distance away. She still is the love of my life and she still is only a short distance away.