Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Story of Standing Bear (iv)

Very little of the great Missouri River looks as it did when Standing Bear and his Ponca band lived out there at the confluence of the “the Big Muddy” and the Niobrara. Four huge dams brought discipline to a madcap river once far too unruly. People say the segment most akin the Missouri Lewis and Clark navigated is right there—from the mouth of the Niobrara south to Yankton. 

From its broad shoulders on both sides, the view is breathtaking. If you cross Standing Bear Memorial Bridge into South Dakota, by all means pull over; there’s a rest stop. Get out of the car and have a look for yourself, but take a good long breath when you put your feet on the ground because it may be a while before you can breathe again.

Those giant sandstone cliffs, like a long succession of clenched fists, make the wide valley almost cavern-like. All around, the land rolls, rises and falls as if a millennium ago some Great Spirit shook out a blanket. 

Just don’t be fooled by the landscape’s stunning elegance. You're in a rugged place whose beauty belies its unforgiving seasons. A cadre of Mormons tried to winter right there in 1847, and had to leave their dead behind, a tally that would have grown had the Poncas not come to their aid and helped hustle them out, come spring. A monument stands there in remembrance. 

Winters are brutal, summers stifle, and buffeting winds threaten in every season to blow you away. But it’s a beautiful world right there at two rivers. If you get up high in Niobrara State Park, it’s easy to see why Standing Bear walked all the way from eastern Oklahoma to be here, to be home.

You can question folks in town, but there’s only one answer to the question you won’t be the first to ask: No, no one knows where Bear Shield was buried, once Standing Bear, an actual, legal person by court decree, came back to the neighborhood. You may ask, but I’ll tell you the answer to your next question, too: No, no one knows where to find the grave of Standing Bear either.

That’s okay. Leave town, drive west, don’t be afraid of getting off the highway. Get up on one of those hills and sit there for a while, because he’s still around dressed in that bear claw necklace. But his weariness is gone now. He's at home amid burgeoning hills delicately threaded by ribbons of rivers all around. You can look for a gravestone, but, if you’re quiet and if you wait, if you simply sit there, I swear you’ll see him in his world.

There is a graveyard. It’s not marked, but if you follow a winding road for a mile or so farther than you might think comfortable, you’ll come to a gravel intersection at the foot of a cemetery that runs up to the top of a steep hill. The stones in that graveyard sit in bands, not rows. One of Standing Bear’s headmen, Buffalo Chip is there, not far from where you’ll park. "Chief of the Ponca Indians," his stone says. Some graves memorialize men and women who claim to be grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Standing Bear. You’ll be as sure as I was that these are the graves of Standing Bear’s people.

Not all the stones and sites are old. People still want to be buried there, in a spot behind a sign that spells the tribal name with a K—PONKA CEMETERY.  A sign that stands over a rutted driveway where occasionally a burdened hearse must still come in to navigate that steep hill.

Some of the most recent graves are set up at the top, at the far end of property. It’s worth the long walk to get up there. Besides, far away on the other side, someone keeps buffalo. If you’re lucky—if you’re blessed—you’ll see them. They may well seem a vision. They’re very real, but visions lie all around. Think what you will.

Skeptical? Sure. Look, by white man’s standards, the place isn’t kept. Somebody ought to mow the grass. And all that clutter around the graves?—it should be out of there a week after Memorial Day. It’s a mess. And it's steep: if you want to ride to the top, you better have four-wheel drive.

Soon enough, there will be another delegation of Native folks here, laying to rest the remains and the funerary items of aboriginal people who were here at the time of the First Thanksgiving, and before. They’ll rest, in state, here, among Standing Bear’s Poncas.  And, thanks to him, they'll rest here as persons, not museum specimens. 

You'll find no grave up on the hill, but this you're in the place where Bear Shield, just a boy, 16 years old, told his father he wanted so badly to be buried. This is the home of Standing Bear.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Story of Standing Bear (iii)

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States. 
An Omaha court scheduled a trial because Editor Tibbles and others determined that what needed to be tested in a court of law was those words, the 14th Amendment of the U. S. Constitution, specifically the premise that Native Americans--our own first nations--were not citizens of the United States and therefore had no standing under the law, and that Washington could determine where they'd live. The 14th Amendment was one of three passed after the Civil War, to ensure African-Americans would be granted the rights and privileges of all Americans. 

But, what about Indians, what about the Ponca? No one had ever before asked. 

Simply stated, the government had always considered themselves to be parents and Indians to be children. Native Americans were afforded no rights. Under the reservations system, "Washington" determined where they would live, what they would eat, how they would live, where they could travel. Native Americans weren't citizens of this great land, never had been.

A team of Omaha lawyers determined to test that long-standing view using the habeus corpus argument, an order to demand the government bring the imprisoned out from lock and key. They wanted the government to prove that it had the right to order Standing Bear and his band back to "Warm Country."

The story swept up nation-wide attention. In Omaha, it was can't-miss, the courtroom crowds standing-room only. There was nothing sloppy or shoddy about the cases presented. Omaha's finest lawyers took the Ponca's side. When, in due time, they called Standing Bear himself to testify, the government's lawyer got to his feet. "Does the court think an Indian is a competent witness?" he asked.

Through an interpreter, Standing Bear answered questions, then rose and spoke to the whole room. "It seems as though I haven't a place in the world, no place to go, and no home to go to, but when I see your faces here, I think some of you are trying to help me, so that I can get a place sometime to live in, and when it comes my time to die, to die peacefully and happy."

What Standing Bear's lawyers argued is that in leaving the rest of the tribe, who'd stayed in Indian Country, his band had declared their independence. They were no longer part of that tribe, and that made their livelihood a matter of fundamental human liberty. In its summation, the government was patently clear: an Indian was neither a citizen nor a person; thus, Standing Bear could not file suit against anyone or anything, certainly not the government.

The judge had but one question to answer: was Standing Bear a person? That was the heart of the matter.

Before he left the chambers, he told the crowd someone had asked to address the court. Adorned in his bear necklace, a Thomas Jefferson medallion around his neck, moccasins on his feet, a blanket around him, Standing Bear walked to the front, accompanied by his daughter, Bright Eyes, who translated his address.  

He looked at his hand, held it out from his body for some time, then looked up. "That hand," he said, "is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be of the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both."

Then he told them a vision of his. He said he saw himself and his wife and his children at the bank of a river where the water is swift and rising. He attempts to get his family up and out of the way, but their narrow path is blocked by someone. "A man bars the passage," he said. "My wife and child and I must return and sink beneath the flood. We are weak and faint and sick. I cannot fight."

He faced the judge. "You are that man," he said. 

The courtroom was full of people, but no one spoke. Some say all that could be heard was the sound of muffled tears. People say the great Indian fighter, General Crook, sitting right up front, brought both hands up and covered his face.

Tomorrow--the end of the story.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Story of Standing Bear (ii)

That Standing Bear wanted to honor his son's wishes goes without saying, but he was himself committed to returning Bear Shield's remains to the Ponca homeland for another reason, a reason that can only be described as spiritual. Standing Bear was not of the opinion that death meant the end of life. Native faith held that the dead moved into a spirit world which in many ways resembled the ones they'd left.

Bear Shield wanted his remains to be home as much or more than his father. He wanted to be among the old ones, the ancestors. He wanted to be with his grandparents. That's what he asked on his death bed, and that's where Standing Bear wanted his son as well.

So, once more, Standing Bear and some of his people started out from Oklahoma, 30 of them in all, in three covered wagons. It was the new year, January 2, 1879, and the temperature that day was 19 below. Standing Bear cut a new path north, one farther west to try to escape being followed. They were on their way back to those gorgeous sandstone cliffs of the Missouri River, on their way to the Niobrara once again in weather that was unforgivably cold.

When they left, they violated the law. They'd left without a pass.

They were not warriors, and their band, never much for fighting anyway, were hardly formidable. Along the way, many white settlers, even in their newspapers, criticized Washington for what they were doing to the Ponca. Many fed them as they traveled those 600 miles back home.

Weary and exhausted, they stopped on the Omaha reservation, where their Omaha friends helped them and gave them a parcel of land to farm come spring. They were just a few days travel away from their homeland--from Walthill to Niobrara. 

But the government feared precedent. If the Ponca could up-and-leave Indian Country, what would prevent the Osage, the Iowa, the Kickapoo, the Pottawatomie, the Arapaho, even the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw from going home too? What would be left to prevent the whole plan from falling into chaos? Some three dozen Ponca, barely alive, had to return.

A newspaper man, 
Thomas Henry Tibbles, an abolitionist from the old days of Bloody Kansas, heard the story and wrote a fiery piece in the Omaha Herald of April 1, "Criminal Cruelty, The History of the Ponca Prisoners Now at the Barracks.” Among his readers was General George Crook, Commander of the Army of the Platte and generally regarded as the greatest Indian fighter of them all.

Crook didn't need Tibbles' article to know the story. Standing Bear and his weary people were already a presence, under house arrest at Fort Omaha; and Crook had spoken to him and a half dozen of his people just the day before (in white man's clothing, by the way), and in the presence of editor Tibbles. The cavalry had taken the Ponca from the Omaha reservation, not easily either, and brought them to the fort. Standing Bear and his people were, at the time, Crook's responsibility.

Standing Bear implored the general to allow his people to return north to the Niobrara. He told the general he could not read or write but wanted his children to go to school. What's more, the Ponca had farmed long before the white man arrived. Farming was what Washington wanted all the plains Indians to do. Standing Bear said his spirit was exhausted, and neither he nor his band would return again to "Warm Country."

General Crook had told them--March 31, 1879--that there was nothing he could do. He was powerless because the Great Father had ruled the way he had. What General Crook told them he could provide was good food for their recovery, some peace and ease before they'd have to go south once more to Indian Territory.  Then he turned to the interpreter. "“I know it’s very hard and painful for them to go down and it’s just as hard and painful for us to have to send them there.”

And it was. Crook was not heartless.

The meeting had lasted three hours. When it was over, Standing Bear and his chiefs shook hands with General Crook. Tibbles went home and wrote his story. 

Tomorrow--the trial.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The story of Standing Bear (i)

It may well look like a typo, but it most certainly isn't. What's more, there's nothing particularly funny about the word funerary. The truth is, it's a word that's barely pronounceable. Funerary--something about it sounds like a speech impediment. 

Just recently the Nebraska Historical Society presented the Ponca Tribe with a collection of funerary objects, things once buried beside the mortal remains of men, women, and children, loved dearly, who once upon a time lived here in Siouxland. Decades ago, those funerary objects and the human remains were unearthed during construction projects and ended up with the Historical Society, whose task it was to identify them.

The Ponca tribe will now take those ancient objects and those remains, wrap them in blankets, and rebury them--along with new funerary objects like tobacco, sage, and other symbols and gestures of prayer--in a remote cemetery on tribal land, where, by the way, they will neighbor similarly repatriated remains reburied there in 1003.  The inscription on that grave reads like this:
Here lie the remains of 584 Individuals of American Indian descent & 70 associated Funerary objects claimed jointly by the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and the Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma. God bless their souls and may they rest in peace.
And all of this funerary activity among the Poncas is a reminder of one of the most important stories of our whole region, the story of Standing Bear, a story that cannot be told often enough. The burden Standing Bear carried was also funerary objects and the mortal remains of his son, Bear Shield.

In the 19th century, when the region suddenly overflowed with white folks, land was at a premium. By popular sentiment among the immigrants, Native people were simply "in the way." The reservation system was created, and some parts of the region were ceded to its first nations. In that process, via the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, the Poncas were simply overlooked, their land ceded to the huge Sioux nation, their traditional enemies. For the Poncas, that mistake made death far too intimate a neighbor.

In 1875, the Poncas signed a treaty which sent them to Indian Territory, Oklahoma. But they didn't understand they were bound for Oklahoma; they'd assumed they'd be sent down the Missouri to their friends and relatives, the Omaha. When Washington made clear they were, in fact, Oklahoma bound, ten Ponca chiefs traveled south with the government agents to look over the new land. 

Eight hated the place. The agent got mad at what he read as insubordination, and those eight chiefs, including Standing Bear, simply walked home, 600 miles, back here to the place where their ancestors were buried, a place they'd rather not call "Siouxland."

Washington didn't care what the Ponca liked or didn't like. The solution to "the Indian problem" was to give all the Indians their own country, "Indian Territory." Poncas, who'd never gone to war with the invading whites, were Indians; hence, Oklahoma. 

First 100, then 500 Ponca left on their own "Trail of Tears." The arduous trip down to the northeast corner of "Indian Territory," the extreme heat and cold, and the lack of any accommodations at all led to the death of one third of the Ponca people in that transition. One third. 

Included among the dead was Standing Bear's daughter, Prairie Flower, who had died on the Trail of Tears, and his son Bear Shield, who died of malaria, at Christmas, 1878. Bear Shield, just 16 years old, begged his father to return his remains to the Ponca homeland, at the confluence of the Niobrara and the Missouri. 

That was the burden Standing Bear was carrying, the human remains and funerary objects of his oldest son, who wanted to go home.

Tomorrow: Standing Bear's homecoming, a civil rights story.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Meds--Love those crows

He provides food for the cattle 
and for the young ravens when they call.” Psalm 147:9

Little known facts.  When a crow steps into Starbucks, he orders caw-fee.  Albino crows are normally called “caw-casions.”  This one is even local—crows are known to gather excitedly for a certain Presidential contest:  the Iowa caw-cus.  One more and then I’ll quit, I promise.  Why do crows exist?  ‘Caws. 

They’re everywhere.  They’re immensely social.  They’re among the most intelligent of birds, of creatures, for that matter.  But their song is an annoying as a sinus headache.  I’m glad that God responds to young ravens when they call because when it happens in our trees—and it happens every spring, it seems—I’d rather shoot them.  They fall out of the nest (there’s a nasty rumor which says parents kick them out early), and for the next week or more it’s sheer cacophony.

They’ll eat anything—bugs, vermin, road kill anywhere in any shape.  In the city, they’ll hang out at the dumpsters behind fast food restaurants. They’re garbage-men—and women (you can’t tell boys from girls, by the way). 

Native people have stories about them, dozens of stories because the ravens and their smaller cousins the crows have personalities roughly akin to a red fox.  They’re tricksters.  How about this?  Crow cut up a salmon for bait, then invited Grizzly to go fishing with him. When he took out the bait, the bear asked what it was. Crow told him he’d sliced up his own testicle, so Grizzly did the same—and died. Crow didn’t need to go fishing.

A researcher discovered that crows actually invite others to their road kill feasts.  Amazing. Maybe that’s why so many consider them intelligent: they’ve moved beyond survival of the fittest. They read Darwin themselves.

They’re more like we are than we care to think. They mate for life and stay close to their families. They’re capitalists, resourceful and entrepreneurial. 

The town of Belgrade, Minnesota, created a huge black crow sitting on a thirty-foot branch atop a 25-foot high cement pedestal, for the 1988 Minnesota State Centennial.  That crow is 18 feet tall, and I’d love to know where the city council was meeting the night the idea for that sculpture passed—what roadhouse tap. It’s not beautiful or moving. It’s just a huge crow.

The psalmist says God cares for crows. I don’t know how to take that.

Crows don’t need care.  They do very well by themselves—thank you. They manage.  Shoot, they thrive. This time of year—early winter—they come into town in droves most evenings, hundreds of them, then sit in trees and yak about how the day went. They make a mess and tremendous hullabaloo, and then they all go to sleep as if there’s a matron somewhere among them cawing “lights out.”  Lately, it seems, they’ve even learned to hush. Crows adjust, chameleon-like in their long, black robes. They don’t need the Lord.  They’ve got bootstraps, after all.

Maybe that’s the intent—God cares even for crows. Nobody else does. Nobody has to.  They’ll survive. They’ll eat anything. They’ll colonize towns and cities. They’ll figure out a way to do it. There’s a McDonalds down the street, right? They’ll make do.

Somebody in Belgrade, Minnesota must love them. So does the Lord. 

Crazy, isn’t it? Just crazy.  

Friday, November 24, 2017

What brought us closer

Snopes, the trustworthy internet snoop, claims that whether or not the ship's orchestra played "Nearer, My God to Thee" when the Titanic slipped away is a question whose answer will forever be, well, "undetermined." Sorry to break the news. Most of us will go to our graves associating that old hymn with mass death in the icy North Atlantic.

There's no end to horrible ways to die, but going down with a ship has to rank with some top ten most frightful nightmares, and shipwreck drownings had to be worse when ocean-liners were the only means of travel. More ships, more wrecks. Once upon a time, there were more survivor accounts because there were more survivors, not because of improved safety measures, but because, quite simply, more ships sunk.

Heroism is something an antidote to despair. Miracles are among the finest antidotes to the darkness. These days and always, we need all the help we can get.

This one happened aboard the Lusitania, a British passenger vessel, the largest of its kind. It went down in just 18 minutes on March 7, 1915, with 1200 passengers aboard and 600 crew, eleven miles off the Irish coast. She was set to dock later that afternoon, having completed her 202nd crossing of the Atlantic Ocean.

Charles E. Lauriat, Jr., an experienced passenger, recorded the impossible story of a couple who miraculously made it. Lauriat was a Boston bookseller, who knew how to wield a pen, but--if his account are to be believed--never lost his cool in the middle of all that horror.

Once he and others were away from the sinking ship and aboard a rough-hewn lifeboat, they picked survivors out of the water, including a woman he believed to be black, a woman who'd lost track of her husband, as Lauriat discovered later, and, panic-stricken, left her seat in a lifeboat to find him. She was on board when the ship went down, and all that water sucked her directly into one of the smokestacks. Down she went, rifling into its innards, when an explosion--the cold water reaching the boilers--blew her out once more and belched her into the Atlantic. "The clothes were almost blown off the poor woman," Lauriat says, "and there wasn't a white spot on her except her teeth and whites of her eyes."

But, Lord have mercy, that woman, that Jonah, was alive.

Their lifeboat filled to overflowing with survivors, 32 in fact, Lauriat and others paddled with what they had for oars until they were two miles away from the scene and came up on a fishing boat who'd already taken on dozens of survivors.

On board that fishing vessel, standing there at their railing, was that smokestack survivor's lost husband. "As we approached she recognized him," he writes, "and called to him; but he showed no reaction, none at all. "He stood at the rail with a perfectly blank expression" and refused to recognize her. couldn't and therefore wouldn't. That that woman could be his love was impossible to believe.

"Not until we were directly alongside and he could lean over and look the woman squarely in the face did he realize," Lauriat says, "that his wife had been given back to him."

You got to love that passive verb tense, don't you?--that the love of his life, lost aboard a sinking ship, belched from the sooty smokestack, then hauled aboard a makeshift lifeboat--that his love, so far gone, "had been given back to him."

A century ago, with the sinking of Lusitania, the United States of America, a reluctant world power who wanted no part of war, drew far closer a conflict that would ravage Europe. If German U-boats would deliberately sink ships full of innocent men, women, and children, many Americans began to believe that American doughboys would soon find a place in those trenches. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Morning Thanks--off script

You better be imperturbable if you get behind the pulpit in the Home. You better learn to keep chugging along even though half the audience is sawing wood. You can't expect undying attention, you'll never get it. When the audience verbalizes, you better have the sea legs of a stand-up comic, because there's no telling what you'll hear.

Yesterday's Thanksgiving speaker, a local pastor, is a veteran up front, and he's good. He knows better than to lecture, he keeps them singing, and he tries--don't we all?--to engage the residents with questions. His enthusiasm soars because he believes what he tells him is getting in--and he may well be right.

The Home we visit is a sunset place, where residents leave only on gurneys. A memory unit locks up on one side of the building. It's a wonderful place, a Home to be proud of. Nonetheless, every visitor knows--as do some of the residents--that it is, most certainly, the end of the line. 

Yesterday, for Thanksgiving, the nurses emptied the rooms, so the chapel was overflowing. The residents were just about all there.

If you preach to that kind of congregation, what you deliver is something like a children's sermon: you ask only those questions you know they can answer--"Who came from heaven to earth?" Good questions have answers that come in a chorus of voices. 

That's what the pastor was doing yesterday, but senility is a tougher nut to crack. When a dozen Alzheimer's patients compose a goodly chunk of the audience. . .good luck.

I'd never seen the woman whose wheelchair was front and center before. She didn't look particularly happy, and it soon became clear that her throttle wasn't performing to specs--she talked quite a bit, undirected commentary, you might say, not mumbling either. She seemed to be making commands. There were times I thought she was telling the pastor what he needed to know in language neither he or anyone else could exactly translate.

He was preaching about pilgrims. Thanksgiving was a truly American holiday, he said, born and reared in the U.S. A. He kept the screen up front full of pictures. 

Right behind us, someone growled every thirty seconds or so. Not softly either. I don't know how else to describe the sound. Could have been a man or a woman. I don't know. 

"Faith" is the word the preacher was fishing for, what he wanted to hear from the residents, the word he figured they could pull from their memories. "Faith" is what he wanted them to say, the lesson he wanted to teach. 

"The pilgrims intended to get to Virginia," he told them, "but they got off course. When they came to land, it wasn't Virginia at all, but Cape Cod." Energetic, even athletic speaker--one of the best. "When they came off the Mayflower, they put down in a strange land." And then came the question. "And in that strange land, what did these good Christian people really need?"

The woman in front, the commander-in-chief, sounded out the only understandable thing she said during the service. "Indians," she said.

I giggled. I couldn't help it. 

"Indians," she said, loud and clear.

There are, this Thanksgiving morning, a world of things for which we're thankful, so many that it gets awkward to create a list. This morning I'm still smiling, remembering that sober-faced woman's answer, and thankful for a world that surprises now and then, life that doesn't always stay on script.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving Thanksgiving*

Some people may be accustomed to scarfing down such huge platefuls of turkey and stuffing in the middle of the day, but I'm not one of them. Thanksgiving dinner--for which we all give thanks--is just so thick and starchy (heavy-laden with gravy that honors our departed Grandma, whose recipe it is) that by two or so in the afternoon, it's a wonder the whole adult family hasn't passed out.

That's why I like to hike on Thanksgiving afternoon, even though there's not all that much daylight by late in the day. We drive out to Oak Grove, a wooded park along the Big Sioux, and work off some of the excess after the Thanksgiving extravaganza. But this year it was too blame cold, a sharp northwest wind icy enough to take a bite out of your face, the windows still thick with Jack Frost.

The bowling alley's long gone, so I asked my daughter if there were any movies playing downtown, something appropriate for her kids, which is to say our grand kids. Yeah, she said, so three blocks was the best I could do for a hike--straight west to the theater, where we donned special glasses and watched Tangled, Disney's version of the Repunzel story in a 3-D version so real my grandson and I kept reaching for butterflies when they came floating past.

In David Brooks' last column in the NY Times, he quotes that odd Christian curmudgeon Tolstoy like this: “The aim of an artist is not to solve a problem irrefutably, but to make people love life in all its countless, inexhaustible manifestations.” I sat there beside my tow-head, second-grade grandson, watched him lose himself in the story, and told myself that there's so much I just haven't learned about stories, like what they're all about, after all. He was teaching me. I was learning new stuff from him because between the two of us, we were dead lost, him loving the story, me in him loving it. And him.

I watched him turn away disgustedly as little boys do when finally Repunzel and her sweetheart thug-turned-saint finally, delightedly, kiss. He just couldn't watch. When the two of them faced sure death by drowning, when it looked like the end was near, he flipped off those glasses and looked up at the ceiling, sure, I guess, the whole story was going to come crashing down on him like a third-rate garage door. I watched Tangled through my grandson's eyes, and when he snuggled up against me during all that high Disney tension, I felt the tremors in his heart and soul.

I came out of that theater telling myself that it's no dang wonder I haven't figured out how to finish that novel of mine because I hadn't been thinking of what it's all about, hadn't seen the wonder in my grandson's bespectacled eyes or thought at all of trying to making sure that novel offers people what Tolstoy says it must--the sheer joy of loving life.

Disney snatched a few tears out of me on the holiday--I'll admit it. Maybe one or two because all things worked together for good in that zany, hairy movie, but also because my grandson lent me, for two hours, his child's heart, an act that gave that movie even more wonder than anything you could see through those plastic glasses.

This morning--three days later--I'm still on a high, and for all of that I give thanks. Thanksgiving thanksgiving.

Oh yeah, the meal was terrific and the pie was to die for. That too.
*First published November 28, 2010. The tow-head is now a sophomore.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A shocking reversal

Even if you don't count dedicated Trump haters, the number of people who love this picture has to be abysmally low, don't you think? The boys are so money-bloated they can, on their father's dime, fly anywhere in the world and put their wheels down for no good reason other than death. They can hire the most experienced guides, equip themselves with the finest firepower, and know, going into the bush, that they'll come out, not just with an animal, but a trophy. 

So let's just start here: this photo generates hate created, for some, from envy. These boys--they're not "boys," but it's easier to call them that--are living the American Dream. They made it--or their father did, or his father before him. They've got planes and yachts and thirteen homes in America's posh-est neighborhoods. They're the super-rich.

Goes without saying that the animal lovers hate it. The mere idea of rich kids reveling in having killed an animal as beautiful as this leopard is not just disgusting but despicable. Thousands, I'm sure, would much rather see the cat alive than the boys. In America today, far more people hate the NRA than love it. Some would, without a doubt, call this picture horrifying, obscene. 

Then there's those who forward the pro-life argument. The excitement written all over the boys' faces results from one hideous fact: death. They came to Africa with the express purpose to kill. That's all. If that's not true, then why didn't they simply pack a Nikon with some super-expensive lens and shoot photographs? It's not the hunt they loved; don't give me that. It's the kill, the rush of power that moves from the trigger-finger directly into the heart.

It's not difficult to hate this picture. In all likelihood, it would have been better for the boys if the American public hadn't seen it. It may well be good for the vaunted "Trump brand," but millions, world-wide, are sickened.

And millions found the boys' daddy's ruling, last week, just as awful, the ruling allowing elephant and lion trophies to be imported from Africa again, a ruling that ended Obama-era policies prohibiting the importation of endangered animals. Trump, it seems, won't be truly happy until he gets his picture taken with a dead Obama, which will never happen. 

For a couple of days, it was impossible not to separate that ruling from this picture. Daddy acted because the boys want to go back to Africa. They need trophy elephants for their man-caves. Daddy thought it would be a good idea to get them out of the way for a while; after all, Junior's in trouble with special counsel Mueller. Send them both out to the veldt. 

But then something happened that defies our year-long understanding of the new President. He reversed the order. Just like that, the man who doubles down more naturally than he breaths, did an about face, claiming the issue needs to be studied. Amazing.

Last night, our granddaughter left out place and just about hit a deer in the gravel road to the highway. It saddens me, even sickens me, to see the number of deer killed every week on highways right around here, dozens of them; but there are more white-tailed deer in Iowa today than there when the Sauk and Fox and the Iowas were the only real Hawkeyes. They're everywhere.

I'd much rather have hunters harvest the extras than see those dozens of broken bodies in the ditches all around. I'm not anti-hunting. If reputable game managers determine that herds of elephants and leopards throughout southern Africa will be more healthy if there are fewer animals, then send in the hunters. I don't trust Trump's environmentalists, if it can be said that he has them. But I'll give them the opportunity to make their case.

I don't know how it happened, how President Trump turned around and halted what he'd just a few days earlier proclaimed. It's just not the Trump brand.

But I like it. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Justice for Slick Willy

That I never called the guy "Slick Willy" doesn't mean I trusted him. I didn't. Not even before Monica. I voted for him once, but not twice. An old friend of mine used to say Bill Clinton is the kind of guy who'll shake your hand and pee down your leg at the very same time. That old friend is a bona fide liberal.

I opposed impeaching him. The whole intern business was eighth-rate sleaze, but--and I'll admit it--until the blue dress, I was skeptical of the others, "the bimbos," as some called them, "trailer trash." Once Bill Clinton said "I did not have sex with that woman," once he flashed that crooked pointer, it was hard not to believe any accusation.

Still, thumbing him out of office seemed a stretch. Kennedy would have been long gone, and Eisenhower, and who knows how many others? What he put the country through with Ms. Lewinsky--and the bald-faced lie he told--was, to me, unforgiveable but not impeachable. "The Big Dog" seemed an apt nickname. Or "Commander in Briefs." Or out of them.

But another nickname was probably most fitting: "The Bill we'll be paying for years." Clinton is haunting us now, even though his wife is already largely disgraced. He's not dead, but he hovers over everything like some Halloween monstrosity. When he got on Loretta Lynch's airplane down in Phoenix and claimed the two of them talked about whatever but not whoever, who could believe "Willie the Weasel"? Hillary's ill-fated Presidential bid went down for a dozen reasons, but that stupid venture onto a Phoenix tarmac had to be up there with the other flashing headlines.

Divine justice, right now, is front and center. The articles of impeachment got tossed twenty years ago, but Clinton's foul behavior didn't. When Donald J. Trump brought the Clinton accusers along to the second debate and set them in the front row, he did something he didn't need to because they were there anyway.

"Access Hollywood" you say? Big deal. Locker room stuff. You want indecency?--have a gander at the Clinton girls. That's Trump scuz, but Clinton's reprehensible behavior made it work.

Right now, the list of abusers in this country is as long as your arm--I won't bother with names. But Bill Clinton's reputation--which was never sterling--has fallen off the table because it's painfully obvious that very little separates him from Bill Cosby. Unlike the holy Judge Moore, Clinton never trolled malls looking for high school cheerleaders; but the President of the United States lied, flat-out, to an entire nation he'd been given authority to lead. He told people he was feeling their pain while stabbing them in the back.

"He who sups with the Devil had best use a long spoon" is a proverb that isn't, but could be, biblical. With Bill Clinton, I'm glad to say the old wisdom works twenty years later. I don't think Ken Starr was right. I don't think Clinton's lying about Monica Lewinsky was an impeachable offense. But the Big Dog left us knee-deep in dirt we didn't clean up, and thereby created a place for Donald J. Trump to leave his. 

Right now, that Clinton is despised again, even by his own, is only right. The impeachment failed. He stayed in office but fell from grace--if he was ever there. 

I'm not happy he's down, but you can't help but enjoy a reckoning, seeing just rewards in operation. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Meds--"the legs of a man"

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, 
nor his delight in the legs of a man;. . .” Psalm 147:10

The athlete in me is well into the fourth quarter; and even though the clock is ticking down, the game has slowed. Rarely, do we miss a day at the gym. Once the last tomatoes are out, we get our exercise inside, sadly—or else walk outside somewhere, if the wind isn’t brutal, which, these days, it often is.

Inside, I get on a couple machines and work up a sweat, the blessed livery of a gym rat at any age. I lift a few weights, even though “buff” is a pipe dream. Basically, that’s all that's left for an aging four-sport jock, once Oostburg High School’s “Athlete of the Year.”  Sad to say, years ago I lost the gold cuff-links that came with that great honor. 

Not so very long ago, I met a nice, young kid, a senior in high school, who expressed an interest in majoring in English when he got to college. He was thinking about enrolling at the college where I taught, and my job was to sweet talk.  As it turned out, his passion was basketball—that’s what he told me. English was okay for a major, but history or math would do the job too. What he really wanted was to coach.

Could have been me a half century ago. 

Great kid, sweet kid—great kid to have here, even though he didn't major in English and didn't play ball. No matter. Back then, his passion was basketball, he told me, eyes ablaze.

He wanted to play ball in college, but he knew making the team would be no cakewalk.  He told me a hot shot from his small, Indiana high school came here a few years ago and didn’t even make the team—so he said he was prepared. He was and he didn't.
That day, I told him I’d seen guys emotionally hamstrung when suddenly they didn’t have to turn up for practice every afternoon of their lives. I knew ex-jocks who felt bright lights go out once the rhythm of after-school practices ended. I went through that myself—delirium tantrums for gym rats. Once you don't make the team some identity just plain dies.

He said he knew all of that.  He said he was prepared.

But my word, did he want to play. Basketball, he told me a half dozen times, was his passion.

Verse ten of Psalm 147 is a gift for jocks, a reminder to a million wannabee all-stars that there’s more to life than being MVP. I tried to tell him as much, but some lessons get learned only by experience.

Not long ago, I spotted a lanky grade-school kid shooting free throws. When he went after the ball, his long legs arched a bit like a pair of fine parenthesis, the sure sign of speed and wholesale athletic gifts. Good for him.

But God doesn’t care. The psalmist says He takes no delight in the legs of man, whether or not they’re sharply defined as a thoroughbred’s.

And that’s good to hear, especially when my knees occasionally require cortisone. Neither the size of our engines nor the thrust of our calves means anything at all. We’re loved, even when we don't make the team. 

Once upon a time, I met a kid who told me a half dozen times that basketball was his passion. That was more than ten years ago. I'm guessing this little verse will bring him comfort, as it does me, an old man who long ago lost his prized cuff links.

It’s good to be reminded—at 18 or 68—that God doesn’t much care what's in a trophy case.  Some people might, but he doesn’t. 

Bless his holy name.  

Friday, November 17, 2017

Leo Dangel, "Pa"

Listen. This sounds like Jim Heynen, one of Sioux County's finest writers. The  two of them had to be friends, and they were, two boys Old McDonald farms, an era of cows and pigs and chickens, eggs that had to be gathered and barns that had to be scooped. 

Listen to this guy, Leo Dangel*. Here's a poem of his, just "Pa."

When we got home, there was our old man
hanging by his hands from the windmill vane,
forty feet off the ground, his pants down,
inside out, caught on his shoes--he never wore
underwear in summer--shirt tail flapping,
hair flying. 

Don't ask what makes it poetry, just listen. Leo Dangel is spinning a yarn made sad by the old man's horror--there he is, buck naked, upside down, hanging from the windmill. Don't laugh. Yet.

My brother grabbed a board.
We lugged it up the windmill and ran it out
like a diving board under the old man's feet
and wedged our end below a cross bar. 

Once upon a time farming, by necessity, created thousands of homepun engineers. How many kids today could jerry-rig a way to get the old man down? 

              "I just climbed up to oil a squeak,
reached out to push the vane around, slipped, damn
puff of wind. I swung right out."

If you haven't yet, it's now safe to chuckle.

We felt strange helping him down.
In our whole lives, we never really held him before,
and now with his pants tangled around his feet 
and him talking faster, getting hoarser
all the way down, explaining, explaining.

Human of the old man to fill up the air with explanations.  And the boys felt strange?--good night, what about him, born along like a sack of grain, the whole pink package of privates out there midday.

On solid ground, he quivered, pulling up his pants.
I said, "Good thing we came when we did."

The kid had to say something, right? Look, there's no damage here if you don't count ego. But you can't quite laugh either, the boys couldn't, I mean. At this point, even the reader has got to sort of grin-and-bear it, too. What happened to Pa isn't pretty. 

His eyes burned from way back. His hands
were like little black claws. He spit Copenhagen
and words almost together.

Poor guy. Poor, poor guy.

                                       "Could have hung on
a long time  yet. Anyway, you should have been home
half an hour ago."

If you ask me, up until that last line, it's all story. But when the old man lights into the boys the way he does, while still zipping his trow, this wonderful little tale pivots into poetry. All of a sudden it's ours because with that flung-out scolding, Pa isn't just pa--he's every last farmer, trying his everlovin' best to create order out of the chaos, make sense of the lunacy.

And he's even more, don't you think? "Anyway, you should have been home/half an hour ago" he says, a perfect delight of a line. His bibs still coming up, Pa, as all of us would, is doing what he can to snatch back some scrap of dignity.

I didn't grow up on a farm, never climbed a windmill, never lost my trousers; but that doesn't mean I've never been Pa.
*Leo Dangel was born and reared around Freeman, SD. For years, he taught literature and writing at Southwest State University, Marshall, MN. "Pa" is from his collection titled Home from the Field.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Book Report--Sherman Alexie's memoir

I think it was a therapist who gave me the line, a family therapist who was, she said, quoting someone else. When a mom or dad loses a child, she said, the rest of us simply need to look the other way for five years, minimum. We need to forgive anything and everything. Such is the ferocity of the loss of a child.

Not long ago, Sherman Alexie, certainly among the most prominent Native writers in America, lost his mother. He'd lost his father years before, but his father--quiet, unassuming, often not around-- was not so forceful an influence in his life. His mother's presence, on the other hand, filled every last room of the home, crowded out everything else even after he'd moved away.

Alexie's new memoir, You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, is a scorching indictment of her abuse--for that's what it was. I can't begin to count the times I wanted to look away from what Mr. Alexie earnestly determined to show me. The raw emotion on just about every page made me think Alexie should have waited five years to say what he does throughout. It hurts to read this book.

That his mother and her husband didn't know how to love their children is achingly obvious. For three long years, Alexie and his mother, a all-night quilter with a vicious tongue, didn't speak a word to each other. Today, he claims he doesn't remember why, nor does he remember how the silence finally broke. What he claims not to be able to forget is sitting beside her in a car in perfect silence--time and time and time again, saying absolutely nothing.

While he was on tour with this book, Alexie kept seeing ghosts of his mother's presence, so many and so vivid that he fell into a black hole of depression that forced him to cancel numerous appearances. I'm not surprised. To hear him read his work--he reads the Audible version--is almost as painful as what he's left the reader to stumble through on the page. Alexie hates his mother; it's that hate he puts under the microscope to examine and confess by way of 78 sketches and 78 poems, in commemoration, I guess, of his mother's 78 years. 

There were times--plural--when I thought I'd quit reading. I'd had enough. There are moments in abundance when I would have preferred him simply to have gone outside into a woods or open field somewhere and just howled. 

I can't help but think of Dutch Calvinists as being slaves to guilt. After all, I am one. Garrison Keillor claims Norwegians and other flavors of dark-visaged Minnesota Lutherans do it better than anyone else. But Jews claim when it comes to dark introspection, they'll take second-place to no one. In You Don't Have to Say You Love Me, Sherman Alexie becomes the Superman of guilt.

But he has reasons. As a child, he was sick, subject to seizures, a runt in a warrior culture. His father was hardly there, never had a job, drank for a living. His mother, among the last Native speakers in the Spokane community, was, to others, as great a hero as a horror. By any measure, she was not a good mother.

Halfway through high school, Alexie seemed to realize that the rez school he'd been attending would basically rob him blind. On his own, he opted out and walked away from what for him should have been and still is, home. He went to town, to the white people's school, where he became something he never was and would never have been on the rez, a hero and athlete. He went to a school where he was the only Indian.

He has good reasons for guilt. 

He's a man gifted with words, who has performed beautifully and thoughtfully for a largely white readership. To paraphrase the Bible, Sherman Alexie is not so much in his world as he is of it; and that uneasy positioning creates a tightrope that makes life treacherous. The sub-title here is telling: "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian." What's inside the man is soft, but he wishes it wasn't, so he rages--at everything, at his mother, at the rez that raised him, at the holy hell he came from, and the white world he lives in as "an urban Indian." 

All that having been said, at the end of this year I'm sure I'll find it difficult to name a single title that affected me as deeply and taught me as much as You Don't Have to Say You Love Me. I wish I could say I liked it. It was, throughout, painful. I wanted to read the book to know something of what it is like to grow up the way Alexie did, and that's exactly what I learned, in sadness and awe.

But then, a man or a woman--any reader--can learn a great deal from a sorrowful howl in the night. I certainly did.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

A Siege Mentality

A Handmaid's Tale

My mother died, a Fox News junkie. Hannity wasn't enough, in fact. She liked Michael Savage very much, and probably a host of other doomsday sages I never heard of. She was stoutly convinced that the world was in a cataclysmic downward spiral that would end soon- and-very-soon with a heavenly trumpet blast because the Lord God almighty just didn't have the stomach to put up with so much evil all around.

I'd like to be able to chalk up her fears to dementia, but she'd carried all of that for years and years and wouldn't hear her son's skepticism. She wasn't techie enough to buy into the ample paranoia of Y2K, but she didn't need a calendar to know the world was coming to an end in flames.

There was a time when I tried to talk her out of her visions, tried to convince her that Obama, born in Kenya, wasn't an agent of Satan. It was useless to argue because what she believed was her faith.

And she liked it. She took joy in believing the world was on a fast track to Hades. It gave her pleasure I didn't understand to prophesy the end in Oostburg.

I consider myself a Calvinist because I'm jolly well sure all of us, even Mom, tend to choose ourselves when faced with tests of our allegiance: will it be me or God? Most often, all of us, in plain old human fashion, choose ourselves--"me first." Not always, and not everyone. But mostly. Even our best deeds, the Bible says, are filthy rags. Yup.

That belief turns end-time arguments into mincemeat and won't tolerate golden age dreaming. It makes "Make America Great Again" silly--that's all there is to it. We are what we are and what we always have been. Things are not going to pot right now any more than they ever were. Deep down, the human character is what it was a thousand years ago. We move faster, but we aren't constructed of new materials.

David Brooks says what's bothering us now is the siege mentality. "The siege mentality starts with a sense of collective victimhood," he says. My mother surely believed that Christians were at great risk in our world because there was just so many of them out to get so few of us. "It’s not just that our group has opponents. The whole 'culture' or the whole world is irredeemably hostile." Yup.

But it wasn't just Mom. True believers on the left cower before their own bogeymen (and women). For me, Sean Hannity. We become convinced that "things are bad now. Our enemies are growing stronger. And things are about to get worse. The world our children inherit will be horrific." Yup.

On the left, we shudder to think that maybe Judge Roy Moore's fanatic Philistines will take over. Our own apocalyptic scenarios include A Handmaid's Tale and Louise Erdrich's new novel, Future Home of the Living God, a world in which my mother's people rule.

Why do we believe such things? Because apocalyptic visions feel really good. 

Read that line again. "It gives its proponents a straightforward way to interpret the world," Brooks says, "--the noble us versus the powerful them." Want to understand the world-wide appeal of barbaric ISIS? Start here. "It gives them a clear sense of group membership and a clear social identity," he says. "It offers a ready explanation for the bad things that happen in life."

Yup. The "siege mentality" gives us this much at least: the deep faith that we are "the holy remnant," which is just another means by which we honor ourselves. Calvin wasn't wrong.

We need to give each other the benefit of the doubt, Brooks says, hard as that is. It ain't easy either, and I'm certainly not hereby proclaiming my righteousness.

We all need, he says, a good, strong dose of "confident pluralism," respect for "the other." My mother truly believed in Mexican drug-runners with calves big as muskmelons. She needed my Sunday afternoon story--she needed to believe in more Salvadorian Samaritans. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Morning Thanks--Rescue squads

I considered the thumb. I hadn't hitchhiked for a half century, but I thought of it, seriously. The woman behind the desk at the motel looked skeptical when I brought up the idea of my walking to town, but the sun was shining, it wasn't cold, and the idea of being stuck in a lousy motel--nice people but a mess in every other way--wasn't enticing. Besides, often enough, I walk two miles for exercise. Three shouldn't be too far out of the question. And I could always stick out a thumb.

The section of York, Nebraska, thousands of people see isn't really York, Nebraska. When you get off I-80, a couple dozen fast-food shops, two Chinese buffets, a Wal-mart, maybe a dozen gas stations and almost as many motels are jammed together right there at the exit. York--the town, York--is three miles north. 

Our old Buick choked out its death rattle, in a town named Beaver Crossing. Not long ago, we stuck a ton of money in that old car--it's a '98 with 160K--to keep that boat afloat, then bought a new car to replace it when it buckled again a week later. For a two weeks or so we had three cars for two people. 

I'd determined to sell it, but figured one last trip would be sweet. I'd not been to the new Willa Cather Center, Red Cloud, NE, so, when my wife and daughter were off to Oklahoma for a baby shower, I thought this young man, like so many others, would go west. 

Maybe a half hour from York, some horror happened in the innards of that Buick, and I pulled off onto an exit where there was nothing, no business. 

Long story short--the tow-truck guy with a skinny fu manchu ("a guy can almost make a living doing this along the interstate") said he'd get it in to his garage and take a look. Told me he could take it off my hands ("3.8?--great engine") if it didn't amount to much more than junk. So he and his son-in-law, the mechanic, told me it'd be at least $650, and he couldn't get it done until Tuesday at the earliest. 

I ended up at a grubby motel in its death throes for two days, until my wife could pick up her stranded husband on her way back home from Stillwater. A day later, cabin fever was about to claim a victim. I figured out York has a museum, the museum was hosting a lecture on the Holocaust, and I was half buggy from my prison cell, so I decided to walk three miles. Besides, I'd been reading frontier memoirs of homesteaders who walked back and forth to Omaha. What kind of pansy?. .you know.

So I did. I didn't have my best walking shoes, but I didn't try to break records, just took it easy, and I made it. Feet hurt a little, but I was, as you might say, "within walking distance" when this huge dark blue pick-up rolls up beside me. A blackened passenger-side window slid down slowly, and some Hispanic guy with even less hair than I have looked at me, smiling.

"I see you walking way down the road a while ago. Still walking now." I'm sure his Spanish would have come more smoothly, but I had no trouble reading his friendliness. "Get in," he said. "I'll take you to where you are going." 

Big pickup. I had to stretch to get in.

He didn't know where the museum was, and for that he apologized, then asked Google, who didn't appear to know either. I told him I thought it was just off Main, downtown somewhere--that I was sure we'd be able to find it by looking at the old buildings. He said he'd only been in America for a dozen years, was from El Salvador, loved York--very quiet, very peaceful, very safe, better than Columbus, where, he said, the cops didn't like Hispanics.

When we finally found it, he said he didn't recognize it because it was the gym and the pool--all in one building. His not knowing is not the unforgiveable sin. In a small town like York, you don't have to be a recent immigrant not to know the way to the museum. Same thing could happen in Orange City.

The docent, great guy, by the way--old as me, aren't they all?--told me that after the lecture we'd find a ride back to the freeway because, "you're serious? you walked all that way?" Well, yes, I said, except the last couple of minutes.

Well, no announcement was made. He forgot, and I wasn't that driven to ride because the sun was still shining, and my feet weren't falling off. Legs felt like concrete, but, I figured, if worse comes to worse, I always had my thumb. Hadn't used it in fifty years, but I'm in rural Nebraska, right? People'll give you the shirt off your back.

I started out, got to the edge of town, maybe twenty minutes out, and a dark blue pick up--big one--stops in the parking lot of a farm store. Black windows slides down. I can't believe it. He's taking his wife off to work now, he says, and I should hop in because it's too darn far to walk all the way. 

If my need were more dire, I suppose I could call him my guardian angel--I mean, I wasn't bloodied and in the ditch. But it took no more than ten minutes and I was back at the dirty front door of a motel that's less than a year from death and destruction. Pool doesn't work. Neither do a couple of vending machine--oh, and no ice either. 

But nice people. Hey, I was in rural Nebraska, right? The Huskers took a beating on Saturday, so I could expect a foul mood; but these people are salt-of-the-earth. I could have hitchhiked, I'm sure, and lived to talk about it.

A couple thousand people probably drove past me as I walked, but they had no reason to stop. I wasn't in any trouble. I probably could have made it back, would have, if it weren't for shirt-off-their-backs people in rural Nebraska. 

This morning I'm thankful for the first-responder who pulled over, twice, and without even being asked. This morning, I'm thankful for a sweet Salvadorian Samaritan from rural Nebraska--York, it's just up the road a couple of miles from the interstate. People'll do you well there, all of 'em. "Red and yellow, black and white,/they are precious in his sight."

Friday, November 10, 2017

Morning Thanks--Sheer Genius*

His grandma says he came downstairs with her last Friday because she was cleaning up down here, doing some dusting, getting ready to show the house.  She says he went for the Aeron chair right away, climbed up and in after announcing to her that it was, of course, "papa's chair."  Then he pulled that chair up to the desk and grabbed my reading glasses, far too big for him, of course, and attempted to slip them on his face. She had to help, she said.

He's two-and-a-half, a babbler, talks a mile-a-minute, but says things only his mother can hope to translate.  So all the while he's pulling this acting job off down here in the basement, he's talking, saying important things, I'm sure, jabbering away.

There's a scratch pad on the desk, and at least a dozen pens, so he grabs one of those pens and starts writing.  There he is, my wife says, in papa's chair, with papa's reading glasses perched on his cute little button nose, one of papa's big pens in his hand, writing something or other on papa's paper. 

I'm not sure what king of blog post he was composing just then, but I have the manuscript right here. This is it, in fact. Have a look. I'm quite sure it's profound, as fine a piece of work that's come out of the basement for quite a while.

Isn't it great?  Quite frankly, I think his writing is beyond words.
This morning's thanks is for the sheer genius he left behind down here on that yellow pad.   

Trust me on that--I taught writing for 40 years.  Besides, I'm his grandpa.

Posted 2/27/2102