So the gene results
are in. Your ancestors did
rape and pillage mine.
NOTES: At my house, we recently took advantage of the Amazon Prime sale to buy a couple of genetic testing kits.
When the results came back, they pretty much confirmed what we thought we knew about our ethnic backgrounds. My wife is pretty much pure Scandinavian Viking. Which makes sense, because she can trace her line back a couple of generations to when the Norwegians came to this country. (There was that scandalous mixed marriage between a Norwegian and a Swede, a couple of steps back. But that was just a slight detour.)
She manifests the Viking traditions of loving the ocean, and attacking physical challenges like a berserker. (The photo above is from her foray into triathlon competition a few years ago.)
I’m pretty much mostly British, with a little German and French thrown in. (Think Hobbit.) Which is pretty normal due to the various influxes of Normans and Anglo-Saxons to the British Isles.
Because we knew my wife was descended from Vikings, we had long joked about her ancestors invading my ancestors’ homeland. And sure enough, there is a tiny percentage in my genetic report that shows up “Scandinavian.”
As I’ve told her all along. “Your ancestors raped and pillaged mine.”
As our friend Tom, who was born in Norway, says, “Of course, the Vikings made many romantic adventures to England.”
You exuded cool.
We all wanted to be you.
And now you’re gone.
NOTES: With great sadness I learned yesterday of the loss of a classmate. Tom Nicholas grew his hair long and sported leather jackets before any of the rest of us. He seemed to float above the traditional cliques and intrigues of high school.
Tom was cool without being a jerk.
His passion was rock and roll, and he pursued it with zeal. He got good, Really good. Played in some bands. Cut some records.
When Tom’s band Estus put out its self-titled album in 1973, it included Marc Bell on drums. Bell would go on to play in the Ramones for 15 years as Marky Ramone.
Tom would never make it big– like fill-stadiums-big — but he could play guitar and sing like crazy.
THE DAY TOM SETTLED THE MATTER
My most vivid memory of Tom was from the only all-class meeting of our senior graduating class of 1970. (I first wrote about this incident in a post last March.)
We were debating a motion to eliminate Honor Stations, a tradition that recognized the male and female student who best exemplified one of 4 qualities: Most Industrious, Best Citizen, Most Courteous, and Best Sport.
This was the fall of 1969, and revolution was in the air. The class immediately before us had voted to eliminate the position of Miss Fair Marshall, as it was considered a sexist relic of a bye-gone era. Now there was a push to finish the work of our predecessors and eliminate Honor Stations as a musty vestige from the past.
There may have been a person or two who spoke in opposition to doing away with Honor Stations. Most of our classmates were still fairly conservative.
But I distinctly remember the debate ending after Tom stood up.
Tom strode forward, leaned into the microphone, and pronounced with authority, “We have a word for this. It’s called ‘ego-trip.’” (That exact moment is preserved in the photo at the top of this page.)
That pretty much sealed the deal. Honor Stations were ego trips. The question was called, and the motion overwhelmingly carried.
The Class of 1970 had finished the work of the class that came before us. We had killed off the Honor Stations and drained the pomp from “Pomp and Circumstance.”
But, for better or worse, I’m pretty sure that never would have happened had Tom not spoken up.
The day the call came
We had just dished up the ice cream.
A special treat for a Friday farm dinner,
(Not to be confused with supper.)
Mother had made it early that morning in ice cube trays.
“Freezer ice cream,” she called it,
Vanilla, made with Junket tablets to keep it creamy,
Even as it froze.
Not as good as the real, homemade ice cream cranked by hand,
But a whole lot easier.
And America was just starting its long affair with convenience.
The call came over the telephone
Mounted on the farmhouse wall.
With two bells for eyes,
You spoke into its honking, beaklike nose.
The earpiece cradled appropriately
Where the right ear should be,
While a hand crank made a poor excuse
For a drooping left ear.
It was a party line,
So the snoopy widow woman down the road
Knew as soon as we did.
The call came, and the man on the phone
Said Grandpa had just keeled over dead
At the auction over in Poosey.
So, we all got up—Mom, Dad, Big Brother and me,
And climbed into the ’50 Ford sedan
Dad was so proud to own.
The first car he’d ever bought brand new.
By the time we got to the auction –
It was a farm sale, really —
Where the worldly possessions of one farm family
Were being sold off.
One at a time.
By the hypnotically fast-talking auctioneer.
Not as depressing as the foreclosure sales
That were all too common
Just a few years before in the Depression.
This was a voluntary sale,
But a little sad nonetheless.
Some farmer was getting too old to run the place,
And didn’t have kids—or leastwise kids who wanted to farm.
A lot of boys joined the service in those days,
Or headed to Kansas City to find work, and a little excitement,
Rather than stay and try to coax a living
Out of that hilly, rocky dirt.
The man at the auction told us
Grandpa had been standing there in the sun with everybody else.
They were just about to start the bidding on the John Deere hay rake
When he grabbed his chest and fell right over.
Years later, they told me when he was a grown man
Grandpa had gone down to the river,
And been baptized, and filled with the Holy Ghost,
With the evidence of no longer speaking in profane tongues.
For, it was well known Grandpa had been gifted
In the art of colorful language.
“He used to could cuss by note,” was how Mother put it.
But after the washing with water and the Word,
Grandpa was never heard to swear again.
I only knew him as a white-haired old man
With a merry smile, and infinite patience
With Grandma, who required it.
And that was it, really.
Nothing more to say,
Except for the understated condolences
Of the country folk.
Nothing more to do,
Except for my father,
Now lately promoted to the role of the family elder,
Who assumed the duties and made the necessary arrangements.
Although I didn’t know quite what had happened,
I felt a lurch … as something shifted beneath me …
And I was yanked one more notch forward.
By the time we got back to the house,
The ice cream had long since melted
And now was returning back to solid state,
As it curdled in the September heat.
NOTES: I got the news this week that a friend’s grandfather had passed away. This death was expected, and from all reports, merciful in coming. But there is still grieving to be done and respects to be paid. You can be happy your loved one is no longer suffering, but terribly sad that they’re gone.
This all got me thinking about my own grandfather, and day close to 60 years ago, and a bit of a poem I wrote about that day as best as I could recall it. It seemed fitting to haul this out of the vault, dust it off and publish it again.
Back in the 1950s on the farm, we didn’t have air conditioning. Shoot, we had just gotten electricity a few years before.
So when the long Missouri summers dragged on and the humidity rose, folks headed outdoors to keep cool. When the nights were really hot, we’d sleep outdoors.
The poem is about a day pretty much like the one documented in this photo. In fact, the events took place not too many days after this photo was shot.
Dad’s shirt bore proof of hard work,
and so did his hands.
NOTES: Dad was a son of the Great Depression, accustomed to hard work. He didn’t have the chance to finish high school due to the need to find work to contribute to the family. The work available was farm hand labor at a dollar a day. Hoeing beans, putting up hay, stripping blue grass. Good money if you could get it.
Too young for World War I, he got a pass for World War II because by that time he was the only adult male on his own farm. The idea was to keep all the farms operating to provide for the war effort. So while all 4 of his brothers-in-law went off to fight, Dad stayed home growing corn and soybeans and producing eggs and milk.
In the post-war prosperity, Dad prospered and saved his money. Finally, in the late 1950s, he made the one big entrepreneurial move of his life, sold the farm, and went into the farm implement business.
We moved from the farm to the farm town of Marshall, got a house with indoor plumbing and central heat.
Things went fine for a few years, but then something happened. I was young and didn’t get the full story. But either through some poor marketing decisions, or through some financial shenanigans by a partner, the business went into debt and had to be sold.
It was a defeat for Dad, but he didn’t let it defeat him. He landed a job in the shop at Reeder Auto Parts. It had to be tough going from the boss to being an employee again, but Dad never complained.
He just showed up everyday and kept chopping wood to do what it took to pay the mortgage and keep hamburger on the table. I recall a time when I was whining about needing a few dollars to buy some knickknack or the other.
My older brother Larry took me aside and gave me the older brother admonishment. “Shut up and quit bothering Dad,” he said. “Don’t you realize we could lose the house?”
I had no idea.
But, Dad kept working away. Mom got a job baking pies at the MFA Grocery Story and we didn’t lose the house.
Let it be said that Dad was a master mechanic. He made things work. He also was perpetually marinated in grease and gasoline.
He would clean his hands with Goop grease cutter and then wash his hands with Lava soap. But they never really got truly clean.
When I hung out with him I usually got the job of cleaning parts in gasoline. I grew to hate the smell, and my mechanical ability has suffered accordingly.
He eventually went on to establish a freelance mechanic business. He primarily served the farmers around Marshall, making house calls to repair balky tractors, combines, corn pickers, and hay balers right where they died out in the fields.
His services were in demand, and he had all the work he wanted. Sometime the farmers would pay him in produce. Like the old German farmer Ludwig who sent Dad home with a quart jar of canned horseradish.
As the family story went, brother Larry returned home late one night scrounging around in the refrigerator for something to eat. Seeing a jar of something that looked like gravy, he unscrewed the lid and took a big snort.
Farmer Ludwig’s horseradish nearly blew the top of his head off.