A Purse Full of Memories

If anyone has any doubt about why I am trying to get this done, read this. I wrote this some time ago, and it was published in The Lincoln Underground, a literary periodical out of Lincoln NE.

A Purse Full of Memories.

I ran across your purse today, while rummaging through old boxes.

It was heavy. Still filled with touchstones that filled your life.

I felt the warm leather of the bag and the years since you’ve been gone seemed to melt away.

I gave you that dark brown, leather Coach bag, the one with the flap over the opening, on one long ago Christmas, because it fit you. Elegant, understated, classic.

You wore it well from your shoulder, even when you crammed more into it than it was built for, but it still looked good.

I opened it, and there were your glasses, your overstuffed check book, notes scribbled on scraps of paper containing names and numbers of people who once mattered to you enough to scribble their names and numbers on scraps of paper. For what reasons, I do not know.

I found the talismans, the crystal, the cross and the worry stone, you carried with you during those most difficult times of your life, and the hope you carried with you in that dark brown, leather Coach bag. There was also a card that went with one called, “The Cross in My Pocket.” I never knew if you read it, but I knew if you had, you believed in what it said.

There was a note, handwritten on a yellow piece of paper torn from a small legal tablet, that was a thank you note you were composing to someone who was very close to you and who had been generous and supportive during those dark times. I don’t know who it was intended for, but it could have been any number of people. The words were yours, and they seemed to come to life off the page.

There was a tin of mints from someone’s wedding in 2007, a wedding you were not able to attend. The decal on the cover read “Jim and Kirsten, April 21, 2007.

There was a pocket pack of Kleenex, like the ones you used to shred when the going was tough.

When I see that purse, I think of that snowy day in Minneapolis. We were there in early December for a doctor’s appointment of some kind, and we had an extra day all to ourselves.

You wanted to go down Nicollet mall so you could stop at Dayton’s, or Macy’s, or whatever it was called then, and go to Crate and Barrel for some Christmas tree decorations. Then we walked over to Hennepin Avenue, and found a restaurant we hadn’t been to before.

The lunch rush was gone, and we were pretty much alone there. We stayed as long as we wanted, drank some wine, had some flatbread with Asiago cheese and talked as if we had nothing better to do that day, and we didn’t. When we saw it begin to fill up again, we knew we had been there long enough. We left and began the walk up Hennepin to find our way back to the car parked across from The Loon Cafe on 1st Avenue.

It had begun to snow lightly. It wasn’t that cold, but the huge snowflakes made it feel as if we were part of some giant, ethereal snow globe.

You were wearing that black wool coat with your red scarf, and that dark brown, leather Coach bag hung loosely from your shoulder, looking every bit the city girl that day, out with her friend. I carried the bags from Dayton’s or Macy’s or whatever it was called, and the bag from Crate and Barrel, in one hand, the other held yours.

The snow continued to fall, but we didn’t hurry. We weren’t cold at all. I think we were both entranced by the scene that winter day in the city, as if we were playing the parts in some romantic movie, of two carefree lovers out walking on a snowy afternoon during the holidays who were in love, and didn’t care who knew it.

I don’t know if you ever thought of that day the same way I did, nor do I know if you thought of that dark brown, leather Coach bag the same way I did, but I like to think you did.

Both of them looked good on you.

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Class Reunions: A Tonic for the Soul.

It’s summertime, and the season for vacations and reunions, class or family is upon us.

It is the time of the year when the North Dakota Tourism Department doesn’t have to advertise to bring people back to their home towns, or schools for get togethers, and it does provide a boost to hotels, restaurants, and bars, not to mention the spirits of those attending these.

Over the years I have gone to both family reunions, and class reunions. In the summer of 1998, I had spent a couple of days in Carrington for a class reunion, and came away with the thoughts that follow.

I wrote what follows for broadcast while working for a radio station in Bismarck, and was called upon at a later reunion to read this at a banquet of our classmates.

Thomas Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go home again.” He was right of course, but what you can do is go back for a class reunion.

I recently attended the class reunion of the class of 1958 in Carrington.
It was the 40th for our class, and I found it to be a wonderful tonic for the soul.

I’ve been to others over the years that we’ve had, but the further out you go the better they get.

First, let’s take a quick look at the five and ten year reunions. Everyone comes to those just five or ten years out of high school wearing their achievements on their sleeves, trying to impress all with how well they’ve done in such a short time out in the adult world, and it’s true, some have done very well in that short time. So, you drink, you eat, have a picnic, dance, tell each other lies into the wee hours, announce your plans, and leave town not to think about such things for another ten or fifteen years.

Time passes. Life takes its toll, and comes now the 25 year reunion. Now they begin to be real fun. The pretensions of youth are sloughing off. The reality of middle age is setting in, and instead of wearing achievements on their sleeves, they are more than likely to have pictures of their children to show and to tell tales of how well their children are doing.

There is less pressure. Things are more relaxed, and I get the feeling that people really enjoyed spending time with each other under those circumstances. So, as before, you drink, you eat, you dance and talk to the wee hours, and the time for needing to impress is past. Come Sunday you hug your friends, say your good byes and leave town actually looking forward to doing it again in the future.

Now it’s time for the 40th. H.G. Wells could not have invented a better time machine as this one as I found out a couple of weeks ago in Carrington.

One minute I’m this fifty-something guy driving into town, not really knowing what to expect since I had seen a lot of my class mates in a long time. The next thing I know, we’re all 17 and 18 again.

The skin is smoother, The hair is all their and it’s not grey. The pounds have melted away, and all of the hope, enthusiasm, optimism and excitement of those halcyon days are back for a magical moment.

No matter that it’s not reality. This is a time to forget reality for a few hours and revel in the feeling that you haven’t aged, and neither has anyone else.

It was a special event. It was different than earlier ones in that now there are no pretensions. What you are, or were is no longer important. You are just who you are, and that is more than enough. Now you are more likely to see pictures of grandchildren as well.

As before, you drink, you eat, you dance, you talk to the wee hours and before you know it’s time for Sunday brunch.

Reunions like this one have a bittersweet flavor to them. It makes the emotions of the event a little more intense. It is bittersweet because you don’t want it to end to soon, but by noon on Sunday reality sets back in. There are bags to pack, places to go, things to do, obligations to be met. So you say goodbye to everyone, and everyone says we’ll do it all again in five years, and you know it may or may not happen. You do know this however, that if it does, it too, will be different, again.

Writer’s Note
I wrote the above essay in the summer of 1998. Ten years later in the summer of 2008, I went back to Carrington for the 50th. It was different, again, as I suspected it would be. Joanie had died that spring, and that had an affect on me, but I still enjoyed the time there.

We had a good attendance and, though as before, we drank, we ate and talked, but we didn’t make it to the wee hours as we once had. That was okay, it was still a grand time.

Sunday still had that melancholy associated with leaving, knowing that your might never see some these friends again, but you say goodbyes and drive off, with only memories as your passenger for the trip back to Bismarck.

The class of ’58 did get together one time since the summer of 2008, but I wasn’t able to make it. Maybe the next time.

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They Called Him Wes

Tomorrow would have been his 99th birthday.

He was born June 11, 1918 in Carrington, ND.

Version 2

His name was Wesley L. Kallberg, He went by Wes, but us five kids called him “Dad.”

He was the last of the breed of over the road salesmen, before the age of computers brought an end to there honored profession. He held on longer than most, and it was that day in October, 1986, when he was on his way to see a customer who ran a small store in another small town.

He was driving on Highway 2, and it hit. He pulled over to the side of the road by Lakota, and he died. He died where he spent most of his working life, on the road to see another customer.

I wrote this a while back, but I decided to post it again.

Words Unsaid

He died alone.
On a highway, in his car.

He pulled over,
And his heart gave out.
That’s all there was.

The news,
Slammed into my mother’s soul
Like a hammer on crystal.

She never got to say goodbye,
Or, that she loved him,
Again.

Neither did we, his children.
Children who learned about
Unconditional love from him,
And the woman who,
Never got to say goodbye,

Or, that she loved him,
Again.

 

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The Graduation That Never Was

Gather round children, it is once again time to dip into Uncle Bob’s Story Time Vault.

It’s graduation time across the country, and several millions of young men and women are getting their high school diplomas, and much to the joy of their parents are getting ready to head off into the unknown future, filled with the promise that comes with this important milestone in their lives.

Thinking about this the other day put me in mind of another such graduation day that took place a long time ago, in a small town in central North Dakota, a day that was something completely different. At least for one student.

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So, you adults in the room, grab yourself a glass of your favorite Cabernet, have a plate of a nice Brie, find your favorite easy chair and sit down to here the story of the Graduation That Never Was.

The year was 1958, the place was Carrington, North Dakota, a small town in the central part of the state located at the junction of US Highway 281 and US Highway 52.

It was there the senior class of Carrington High School was looking forward to graduation that spring 59 years ago.

I was a member of that class of 50 plus who was thinking about what happens next, and not having any solid answers as we approached graduation.

1958 was early in the second term of Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency. The fifties, often referred to as the “benign” fifties had been a period of modest prosperity. The cold war was heating up, the Interstate Highway System was just getting started, and the seeds of what would lead the United States into an increasing involvement in Indo-China were being sown. Bill Haley and the Comets scored with “Rock Around The Clock” and “Shake Rattle and Roll.”

All of those events with the exception of Bill Haley and the Comets went relatively unnoticed in our small town on the prairie.

As I said, I was a member of that class. In fact, I was elected vice-president, on what was to be my second attempt at an elected office, and my last.

Dick Swarthout was elected president, and he had all of the credentials. Football star, basketball star, dating cheerleaders, etc., were all part of his bona fides. I had none of those, but that’s another story. I was elected vice-president, in what I suspect was a pity vote.

Reader note, a digression, or in cinematic terms, a flashback is coming.

My first foray into elective politics came during our freshman year, 1954-55, Swarthout and I had cooked up a scheme whereby he would nominate me for presidency of the freshman class, and I would rise and give this campaign speech, which I had stolen from Stan Freberg, a comedian and advertising guy prominent back then.

After Dick had put my name in nomination, I stood up and delivered the first and only campaign speech of my life.

“Students arise, to long have we cringed under the whip of teacher totalitarianism. Elect me, and we’ll overthrow the principal, turn his office into an automatic car wash, and put picture windows in the girl’s gym.”

As I uttered that last sentence, Bert Skakoon, our class advisor said, in a rather loud voice, “Kallberg sit down.” I did, and my political life was over. I think I may have been ahead of my time. Come to think of it I was all of 14 at the time.

Anyway, back to 1958.

So you understand, while I may have been vice-president of the senior class, I was not their best student.

In fact, my academic credentials were rather anemic. That is not to say I did nothing during my four years of high school, but as my English teacher Edna Fylken, who believed in me more than was justified, told me one time I “needed to apply myself more.” Translated, to use a more modern term, I was the classic underachiever. I had no problem with that.

Looking back at those years, in my defense, I was in Luther League, sang bass in the church choir at Trinity Lutheran. I wrote for the school newspaper, “The Cardinal,” in fact my last year was as the sports editor for the paper, something my friend Willie at the Elbow Room would find funny today.

I was in band, playing at one time or another clarinet, alto sax or drums, choir where I sang baritone and bass, sang in the mixed quartet, with the help of librarian Carol Moreland formed a drama club, went to the State speech contest two years running and got highly superior for interpretive reading, played drums in a group made up of my brother Jerry on bass, John Cousins on piano, and sometimes Denny Marcussen on tenor saxophone.

Miss Fylken was responsible for my success at the State speech contests. She worked with me my junior year when I did James Weldon Johnson’s “Creation” from memory, something I performed several times after that. What I did the next year was not as memorable.

So, one can see that I wasn’t totally absent during my high school years, even though unlike my brother, Jerry, I played no sports at all. Music and speech was where it was at for me.

In other ways, I was sort of an outlier. I smoked from an early age, drank beer from an early age, and had a general distrust of authority at an early age. That meant I was out of the mainstream even in such a small town as Carrington. I was okay with that

Another thing that set me apart, in some ways, was that spent a lot of time around people older than me. That meant guys in my brothers class two years ahead of me, and the class in front of me as well.

There was also the gang at the Rexall Drug, owned by Mayo Meadows. It had a great soda fountain, and I used to go there at noon for a chocolate coke, or cherry coke, and visit with folks like Doc. Duntley, the local optometrist, Merle Bauer, who worked at the Foster County Independent, and Ken Kaupaun, the druggist. They all became my friends, even though I was just this 16 year old kid, and they were to be important later on.

So now, if you have hung with me this far, we come to the reason for this story. In the spring of 1958, I was a couple of months from my 18th birthday. Our class was getting ready for Baccalaureate, which was held the week before graduation. Prom was behind us, and in a few weeks, we’d be down the road.

Speaking of Prom, I did go my senior year. I had not gone my junior year because I couldn’t find a date. That didn’t bother me so much, for I went to the prom banquet and then later on headed for Hawk’s Nest, SW of Carrington with some friends for a night of partying.

My senior year, Steve Tracy, in the class behind me, and I both had dates with girls from New Rockford, about 10 miles up the road from Carrington. Steve had a car, and I had a date with a girl named Janelle, and it was all in all a good night. The fact that I even went to the prom was evidence that I had fully expected to graduate that year.

Graduation announcements had gone out to family and friends, along with photos of the newly about to be minted graduate.

Then, (Cue the ominous music) I got the news. I would not be getting a diploma on graduation day because I was short a credit, or was it two, I can’t remember.

I was stunned.

I asked the powers that be why they had waited almost 4 years to tell me I needed another English credit. Evidently I had dropped that in the 8th grade, but not one person had told me I could have made it up in the last 4 years, and then I would have been able to get my diploma on graduation day.

I was pissed.

Shortly after having this dropped on me I went to mixed quartet practice, and was told by our music teacher, Leonard Borlaug, we would be performing at Baccalaureate the coming Sunday evening. I told him I wouldn’t be there, and he insisted I had to be there, a notion I disabused him of when I walked off the stage. I felt bad in a way, because I liked him. After all, he was a music instructor and I learned a lot from him.

I felt guilty.

I felt guilty because I thought I had let my parents down, and that only fueled the anger I felt at having spent four years on extra-curricular activity when I could have picked up the credit.

My parents, like me were disappointed, and I think more worried about me than anything else. They were supportive, as they always were, and made me feel okay in spite of the public disappointment I found myself in. That’s not to mention there would be no photographs of the new graduate with his parents for the scrapbooks. That wore on me. I couldn’t give them that.

Baccalaureate came on Sunday, and I spent the night working at the Rainbow Gardens where we ran roller skating on the weekends.

Comes now graduation night. It was hard. I had already received responses to the announcements we had sent out, and I decided I would go to the ceremony at the high school gym.

I donned my suit and tie, and told my folks I would be okay, and went to the gym. There I went up to the balcony and found a place by myself and watched as my classmates paraded across the stage and got their diplomas.

After the graduation ceremonies were over, I went home, changed clothes and joined friends for a trip out to Hawk’s Nest for a night of bonfires, singing, drinking and carrying on till the sun came up.

As we were driving back to Carrington early that morning, I couldn’t help but think that while I missed this graduation, some day soon, I would have my own. I could live with that.

AFTERWORD

While my plans for the future were put on hold with the event of The Graduation That Never Was, I got a job at the Foster County Independent, working with my church choir and Rexall Drug friend, Merle, and went to work on a correspondence course from NDSU to pick up the English credit. When I finished that course, the woman who was handling my work gave me an “A” and she wrote that she thought I had some promise as a creative writer.

After I got my delayed diploma in 1959, I found that they had typed over the word eight and added the word nine. The interesting thing was that they, like me, at one time assumed I was going to get a diploma. I laughed, and thought that’s okay. I can live with that.

Version 2

After surveying my options that winter, I found that joining the Army was my best bet. My family had no money, and that was before anything resembling student loans was available. And god knows, I wasn’t going to get an academic scholarship.

So in June that year, my mother drove me down to Jamestown where the Army recruiter put me on a bus that would eventually take me to Fargo and from there to Fort Carson, Colorado for basic training.

I was was just 18, but I knew someday there would be another graduation day in my future, but that is another story.

EPILOGUE

Just a note to let you know that over the intervening years, I have attended many of the reunions of the class of 1958, and have enjoyed them all, and still consider them my friends.

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Memorial Day 2017

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Back when I “was a tender and callow fellow” in a small town in Central North Dakota, I was called upon three years in a row to render my reading of “In Flanders Field” on Memorial Day observances.

For some reason, the indoor portion of the observance was held at the Federated Church, and there I read the brief poem written by a Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.

I did not know the history of the poem, back then. What I knew then was that they were solemn words written during WWI. What I would find out later was the words were written after the Second Battle of Ypres, Belgium by McCrae who had presided over the funeral of a friend and fellow soldier.

I still remember the words, every year Memorial Day comes around, and with the passing years they come to mean more and more.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

—-John McCrae

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