Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Baboon Redux – Farmers and Their Tractors

Today’s post by Clyde was first published in 2011.

In my childhood the few farmers of southern Lake County shared equipment and work. Many of those farmers were characters worthy of being remembered. Two of them were Nordic Bachelor Farmers.

The Swede

Ole, his real name, I promise, lived in the valley below us up a side road of a side road of a side road in a small house. I always wanted to get into that house, to see if it was as neat and precise as were his barn and garages and to see if it had any frills. I never made it in.

1948 Massey-Harris

In our early years on our perch above the valley, before the trees got too tall, we could just see his farm. It was three miles away, but by road it was seven miles. Ole owned a threshing machine. We would trade work or oats for him to come to our farm with “the separator,” as we always called it. Ole would putt-putt along at a much slower speed than necessary in his 1940’s era red and yellow Massey-Harris tractor towing the machine to and from our farm. Ole never rushed anything. Never. Ole never got excited. Never. Ole would talk . . . but . . . seldom . . . softly . . . with lots of . . . pauses.

He was slight of frame with massive hands at the end of long dangling arms. He always wore a cap, except when he came awkwardly into our house to eat. I waited for that moment when he stood at the door wiping his feet, cap in hand, calling my mother “Missus.” Powdermilk Biscuits would not have cured his shyness, nor given color to his pale skin, which somehow never tanned or burned, nor given thrust to his receding chin.

It was his head I waited to see. He had classic male-patterned baldness, and, here is what I awaited, five large bumps on his head. I do not know why he had them. They seemed benign, and he lived into his late 70’s. But what child could not be enthralled by those bumps!

The Norwegian

Noble—yes, that was his name—was my father’s best friend. And as opposite of my father in temperament as a man could be. He had been a Lake Superior fisherman until the coming of the lamphrey. He switched to farming, with which he needed much help from my father. I liked his name, and he did have a serene Nordic unpolished nobility. But I liked his brother’s name better, Sextus, which always made me giggle. Noble was short, stout of frame, and walked with small slow careful steps. He always bent his upper body forward and furrowed his brow as if deeply worried, which he was not.

Oh, how many stories there are about his kind, gentle, and implacable nature. For instance he once brought back 50 wild yearling steers off the Montana Range, and trustingly left a gate open, letting them escape. We got back 49, one of which died.
One was found as far away as Beaver Bay.

One day when he was about 50 years old sitting drinking coffee at our house, calling my mother “missus,” he casually mentioned that he had married the week before. My parents snorted coffee. It was a woman we knew—brusque, demanding, fast-moving, and intolerant of incompetence. It proved to be a lasting, loving, and happy match.

After I moved back to Two Harbors, I often saw Noble. Once I mentioned to him that my backyard had a large pile of firewood which was too punky to burn in our fireplace. He agreed with my suggestion that it would burn in the large barrel stove in his garage, fashioned for him by my father.

Fordson Model F

One Saturday he showed up with a hay wagon pulled by his 1930’s era Fordson tractor, famous for its durability and utter lack of power. Noble had three tractors, one a powerful International Harvester, but he loved to use that old putt-putt Fordson. As he backed it down into the low spot in my yard where the wood was piled, I told him that I did not think it had the power to pull out the load. He thought a moment and said, “Yup, yup, probably not,” and started to load wood. Halfway through the job we went in for coffee. He took off his hat, wiped his feet carefully, and charmed my wife, calling her “Missus.”

As you can guess, the Fordson would not pull out the load. He did not get mad; he just laughed and said, “Yup, yup, you were sure right about that.” He drove the 11 miles home and 11 miles back the next day with the IH, which pulled it out easily.

That was, sad to say, my last meaningful contact with that exemplary man. But I picture him every time I hear the term “Norwegian Bachelor Farmer.”

What are the tools of your trade?

Hummel, Hummel-Mors, Mors

Today’s post comes from Renee in North Dakota

Clyde’s recent posts about DNA and birch logs made me think about these little carvings I have that came from my mother’s family from Hamburg, Germany.  

The crabby water carrier and the farm animals and other figures were in my house all throughout my childhood.  Mom would never let me play with them. I think some of them were children’s toys. Mom said she thought that some of them were sent from Hamburg by family in thanks for the food packages my grandma sent them during the war.  She was pretty vague about it.  She couldn’t even tell me  how long she had them, or why she had them instead of my grandmother or other family members.  

She also couldn’t tell me much about the water carrier. She said he had something to do with Hummels. I always thought she meant the porcelain  child figures designed by the nun, Sr. Maria Hummel.  

Well,  That isn’t quite the whole story.

I now know that the water carrier figure was a real person who worked as a water carrier in Hamburg in the mid-19th century and who was noted for his nasty temper. He was given the nickname “Hans Hummel”.  The word Hummel sometimes is used to refer to a bumblebee. Hamburg children would follow him through the streets as he carried water, yelling “Hummel Hummel” and he would respond with “Mors Mors” which is low German slang for “Kiss my a**”.  

People from Hamburg often greeted each other this way long after Herr Hummel went to meet his maker. The water carrier is a popular symbol for Hamburg.  Now, why didn’t my mom tell me this? How did those cute child figures get mixed up with this?  I don’t even know if mom knew the whole story. If that is the case, why didn’t her mother or her grandparents tell her the story?

Since my parents have both died I find I have lots of questions that I will probably never get answered. I wish I could go back in time and ask my great grandparents and other ancestors just what is up with all this stuff.  Husband and I are tentatively planning a May trip  to Bremen and Hamburg, so maybe I will find some answers.

What question would you ask your ancestors?

Back In The Saddle Again

My friend Mike Pengra is very good at his jobs. He has several, but for the most part they all boil down to doing the same thing – Mike makes other people sound better.

As a producer, editor, music-picker and scheduler, Mike supports classical music programming at Minnesota Public Radio, and is the lone human behind the robot-powered rootsy music stream, Radio Heartland.

He’s also the drummer in a band called City Mouse.  In the music world, the rock band drummer is a character who is both essential and undervalued, so the role suits Mike well. He makes everything OK and distributes the credit elsewhere. Somehow people feel more competent when Mike’s around, and he’s too kind to reveal that it’s his doing, not theirs.

This is why everybody likes Mike.

Mike and I worked on Radio Heartland a few years back, and for a good stretch before that we were teammates on the weird three-legged stool that was the MPR Morning Show, Mike playing the silent partner like the multi-talented Silvester Vicic and the saintly Nora McGillivray before him.

Mike contacted me a few weeks ago and said a group of demanding baboons had made a bunch of music requests, and he wanted some help feeding tunes to them.

I don’t host radio shows anymore, but I was happy to oblige this time, knowing that as soon as I walked into Mike Pengra’s studio I’d become two times funnier and at least ten times smarter.

And believe it or not, that Mike Pengra magic still works.

You can listen for yourself to a Baboonish Request show today at noon, and again on Sunday evening at 7.



A Late Great Morning Show Revival

Today’s guest post comes from Sherrilee

At Blevins Book Club last weekend, a small pocket of us were reminiscing about some of our crusty old favorites from The Late Great Morning Show.  Most of us are still Radio Heartland devotees, but don’t hear the oldies but goodies as often as we’d like.

So it’s time for a LGMS revival!  If we pull together a list of titles, Mike will get them organized and we’ll have a rousing couple of hours of songs that elicit some of our great memories from over the years.  After we get the list to Mike, he’ll let us know the date and time.  No guarantee that he’ll be able to find all our titles and I’m assuming we’ll come up with way more titles that can fit into a couple of hours, but I think we should give it a shot.

I’ll start us off with two:  The Mary Ellen Carter by Stan Rogers and Canned Goods by Greg Brown.

What song do you miss from the LGMS?

Merry Christmas!

Here’s a classic piece of Christmas nostalgia. A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965 and was apparently unappreciated by network executives, who despaired of the child actors’ unprofessional sounding voices, the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi, and the reading of a Bible passage by Linus. The Christmas special was expected to be a ratings disaster and there were no plans to repeat it.

Half of all the TV households in America were tuned in to watch this show. Getting the attention of such a large portion of the country all at one time was possible in 1965. Although we are even more wired together today, it would be difficult to persuade half of America to look at the same thing simultaneously unless it was a live historic event, a terrible tragedy or the Super Bowl.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” may have single-handedly killed the aluminum Christmas tree, which was an innovation that I, as a 10 year old, admired. Especially when it came with a revolving color wheel!

The opening scene of children skating on a frozen pond brings back winter memories for me. I did the very same thing with a group of friends on a little pond in the woods near our house in Montrose, New York. This was not a community pond in a public park with a warming house, lights and piped in music. It was really off in the woods, away from any roads and not visited by anyone except us. The forest came right down to the edge of the water. We’d sit on fallen trees to lace up our skates. The frozen surface was rough – occasionally interrupted by a stump or a stick, which added an element of unpredictable excitement to our skating parties. I’m guessing there are no figure skaters who got a start there, but it was a great location for unsupervised, frictionless roughhousing.

Where do you (or did you) go to skate?

Down By The Old Mars Stream

Mars is turning out to be warmer than expected, and we are finding even more evidence that water once flowed there.

What a lovely spot for a picnic!
Image NASA

But clearly things have changed since those good old days on the red planet. While at least one of our famous Earthly waterways is showing a positive trend, quality-wise, the Martian brook that Curiosity rolled over this week has clearly seen better days. The question of whether there was life there at one time remains unanswered for now, though I think we all can see where this is headed. We may never have the chance to waste an afternoon lounging in a peaceful dew-freshened glade alongside a Martian brook.

But I still feel a little nostalgic.

My darling I am dreaming of a distant sky,
A place where we were sweethearts that has since gone dry;
The ground is red and rocky now, the air is thinner too.
But still I will remember, where I first met you.

Down by the old Mars stream where the microbes grew,
There was algae too, in that watery stew.
What a different hue, was our Martian goo.
We made a scene. It was pea green! Down by the old Mars stream.

What is your favorite, most romantic waterway?

Old Soldiers

This is the anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell address, which included the catchphrase “Old Soliders Never Die, They Just Fade Away.”

Definitely not fading away here.

To my way of thinking, the line is more appropriate to describe the end of the perpetual Disc Jockey.
Dick Clark did just fade away, gradually vanishing like so many of the songs he promoted, the volume sliding down to an imperceptible nothing.

But for soldiers? I’m puzzled.

Why is just fading away any better or more appropriate for an old soldier than dying? Especially in a business where dying is such an ever present and immediate risk? We certainly know that young soldiers die – far too many of them. Why would old soldiers find any comfort in the prospect of a long fade? Or is this an expression of regret that they can’t go out in a blaze of glory like the young comrades they lost so many years ago? I don’t get the point. Soldiers? Anyone?

The famous line comes at the end of the speech, which was given to a Joint Session of Congress on April 19th, 1951.

“I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
Good Bye.”

The line comes from an old “barracks ballad”? I didn’t know that, and wondered if perhaps seeing the words to the ballad might shed some light on the sentiment. I didn’t find much on my first few tries with Google, but fortunately for me there’s Subtropic Bob, who writes a blog called “This Day In Quotes.”

Subtropic did some digging last year and managed to connect the quote to a hymn called “Kind Words Never Die”, which makes the case that kind words, sweet thoughts and human souls are eternal. Linking that idea to old soldiers was apparently a work of parody, and not a flattering one at that (what parody ever is?).

“Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die —
They simply fade away.

Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die —
Young ones wish they would.”

If this is actually the song MacArthur recalled, the proclamation about old soldiers sounds far from proud. But at the time he gave his speech, the General was looking back on a 52 year military career. It is entirely possible that this popular, poignant saying is actually a lyric lifted from a misremembered, cheeky song meant to mock the very same people who now shed a tear over it. The lesson for satirists – time wears away the sharp edges of your biting wit, and the joke is ultimately on you.

What would be a more modern version of MacArthur’s inadvertent transformation of a joke into into a poignant benediction? Imagine some long-serving college president made this comment as the final lines in a farewell speech …

“I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular dormitory ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘in the end, I learned to bend, and did it their way.’ So now I close my career in academe, I say to you what is a man? What can I do? Open your books. Read chapter Two. And if it seems a bit routine don’t talk to me, go see the dean. They get their way. I get my pay. We do it … their way.”

What song lyrics would you lift for your Farewell Address?