beautiful abstract vivid butterfly vector illustration

DECADE TWO: exploration of my body, mind and environment.

Early into my sophomore year in high school, an announcement over the PA system in homeroom set in motion a chain of events that impacted the rest of my life. An example of the butterfly wings effect? A pause following the agenda for the day, the principal’s voice continued, “A local farmer is looking for after-school help with chores. If interested, check at the office.” The message didn’t identify boy or girl, but in 1956 no one would have mistaken the farmer’s intention.

I had just spent the summer loading and unloading bales of hay, shocking grain bundles to dry in the sun, and forking those bundles onto a trailer and pitching them into the thrashing machine. I expected to return to my after-school job of cleaning cars at the Ford dealership, but Ted Thielen said, “Sorry, but I had to hire so-and-so’s boy because his dad owes me money.” Out in the car lot, I spied a former classmate of mine hosing down a row of new Fords.

Two of us reported to the principal’s office that morning, my competition a street kid who rejected the farmer’s sleep-over requirement which I found acceptable. I had lived away from home off-and-on since I was in the seventh grade. As directed, I took the out-of-district student bus as far as the cross roads eight miles north of Pierz, and I walked a short distance to their farm. The dog threatened—Virginia, the farmer’s wife, had told me over the phone to ignore him—arousing the curiosity of chickens, geese, and pigs. The cows and horses stood behind the fence swishing their tails to shoo flies off their backs.

When Earl Bayerl returned from his Fuller Brush route, I assisted with the afternoon/evening chores: feed the animals, bed them for the night, and hand-milk three cows. He described the reverse order of my morning chores during supper that evening and offered $12.00 pay plus room and board for a six day week.

He drove me home that evening, and said, “I hope you show up tomorrow after school.” He chuckled, almost a giggle—his trademark reaction to most of his proclamations. “You will learn a lot at my Rock and Rye Farm.” The most serious lesson proved to be tons of rocks to be picked off the fields before seeding his winter rye crop that fall.

With the flap of her wings, my butterfly steered me from an opportunity that might have developed the necessary self-esteem to compete in a variety of sports then and into the future. Throughout grade school, I dreaded playground activities during recess, specifically organized games the nuns would set up and then walk away, mainly baseball. In the first grade, I managed to hit the ball but got tagged at first base. Not knowing what had transpired, I froze fighting back tears.The kid who had slapped my back with the ball yelled, “Go home.” Taking him literally, I burst into tears. My sister came from her third-grade play area to console me.

I avoided team sports until the last day of the eighth grade with the traditional boy-versus-girl softball game. Back then, girls still swung the bat like an ax, as I did. I declared the game unfair to the girls’ team and volunteered to even the score as umpire. By then, I had established better relations with the girls in my class than with the guys, and they cheered my decision. The nun in charge objected but was over ruled.

A minor wing flap, bigger ones yet to come.

Day one of the 1956 school year, Mr. Schwartz began the sophomore boys’ physical education with laps around the city block to assess who might be a candidate for the junior varsity basketball team, it being the only sport offering a letter. The girls’ option was cheerleading. Feeling the coach eye my nearly six-foot muscular frame, I detected a hint of his interest. However, I wrecked my chances by hanging with a group of non-contenders who complained about the activity. Mr. Schwartz overheard and sent us back to our regular physical education class.

Within a few weeks of P.E. class, Mr. Schwartz asked me to stay after. He said, “We have only nine basketball players on the varsity team, one short for scrimmage practice. If you agree to join, I would let you suit up with the team for all our games.” Not the “B” team, but varsity. I stuffed my inhibitions and accepted his offer.

As the only sophomore on the team, I presented no serious threat to the rough and tumble senior playing center under the basket. I offered some competition, and he acknowledged my rebounding ability. I suited up for three or four games and actually played the final minute of one game where our cause was hopeless. I scored a basket. The crowd cheered like I was a ringer brought in to save the day. Everyone knew my situation, half supporting me and half making fun of me. I felt elated.

Then came the call from Rock and Rye. I don’t regret my decision to give up basketball, but I wonder if my continued participation might have altered my perception of my ability and instilled an interest in sports sorely lacking throughout my adult life.

Choices have consequences, sometimes just tradeoffs. During my eight months at Rock and Rye, I absorbed the culture of farm life during the winter months, my previous experience involved only planting and harvesting. I developed knowledge and skills with animals, assisted with birthing and butchering, milled grain into ground feed and fanned next year’s seeds free of impurities. I felled trees for firewood and hauled the logs to a local sawmill. I churned butter for our family of seven, occasionally babysitting the four children, one a hydrocephalic infant.

I helped dig the grave for that child and grieved with her parents after she died early spring. I worked hard but never felt taken advantage of. I consider Earl one of my mentors and Virginia a friend with whom I still communicate sixty years later. Earl died of alcoholism shortly after I graduated from college.

I planned to stay at Rock and Rye that summer, but my dad got me a dollar-an-hour job with the survey crew in Morrison County through his friend, the county engineer. Earl and Virginia were disappointed but understood that I couldn’t afford to pass on the money and learning experience. I kept the summer surveying job through my second year in college when I accepted a position as movie theater manager that lasted until I graduated and began my teaching career.

FIFTH ENTRY: Developing a Personality

DECADE #1, CONCEPTION TO PUBERTY: identity and a sense of self

TWO ROADS: Life’s philosophy shared with Robert Frost (Audio optional)

The war is on, had been my parents’ excuse for denying the amenities my sister and I considered necessary for our happiness. Curious why the war couldn’t be controlled like the newly installed light switches in our kitchen, I said, “Turn the war off, Daddy.” That comment from a four-year-old earned its place in family lore for years to come.

During those war-deprived years, my godparents gave me a tricycle shaped like an airplane, its fuselage and wings covered with cardboard glued to a wooden frame, metal being in short supply and plastic not yet perfected. Even our telephone had been made out of wood. My parents marveled at the expense my uncle and aunt lavished on me. Grandpa made many of our presents from wood, but this toy was definitely store-bought, not built by him or anybody else’s grandfather, probably assembled in factories by women since the war had taken so many men.

As with most of my childhood toys—and many adult ones—I disregarded caution and maintenance. However, I used them creatively. The airplane soon lost its wheels, which theoretically weren’t needed to perform their primary function. I mounted the fuselage to my swing and got it to perform beyond expectations. My parents considered me a creative genius, and my ego soared, allowing me to redesign more of my toys. When the rear wheel of my scooter lost its solid rubber tire, the naked metal resembled a grooved pulley. I stripped off the front wheel and handle bars and mounted the frame like a boom on the back of my Radio Flyer. It became my tow vehicle to lift and haul other toys from the sand box to the garage for repairs. In winter, I attached a wooden wing to the side of my sled and plowed snow like my dad did with his motor grader.

During the war, Dad owned a 1939 Chevrolet that some guy repainted in a garage on Main Street in Pierz that was torn down in the ‘50’s. In its place, Henry Gau’s Standard Service Station built at a cost of $35,000, a fact that astonished my parents. More shocking was the attached thirty-year mortgage. Surely, Henry wouldn’t live that long. I don’t know if he did, but the building still stands and, I assume, has been mortgage free since the 1980’s.

Dad and I went to inspect the car, its windows and chrome still masked, the paint quite tacky. He anticipated and prevented my impulse to test the wetness but allowed a child’s handprint between the bumper and fender, temporary proof I existed. I doubt that ‘39 Chevy continues to confirm my existence while rusting behind some abandoned barn; hopefully re-smelted into something more permanent, possibly an “I” beam in one of the two towers at the World Trade Center, not erected until decades later, destroyed later still.

The smell and gloss of fresh paint is still with me, but I can’t recall the vehicle either before or after that day when I memorialized myself behind the Chevy bumper. Perhaps the car belonged to someone else, but according to old family photographs, we had one like it until Dad purchased a brand new family car, a 1949 Ford. Ted Thielen, the car dealer in Pierz, discounted the cost one hundred dollars to pay off his bet that Dad couldn’t stay away from whiskey for a full year, a bad deal for everyone except Ted. Dad consumed a lot of beer that year, proving to himself, my mother, and others that he hadn’t a drinking problem. Dad succumbed to alcoholism from which he never fully recovered; the money for the ’49 Ford, borrowed from my mother’s mother and not repaid until the 1960’s. A short-lived attempt at sobriety occurred in the early 1970’s, but, after a debilitating stroke, he reverted to his old friend until his death in 1978.

Soon after new vehicles became available following the war, Dad purchased a 1946 Ford Pickup as a support vehicle for his road construction business still booming at the time. Fond me-and-Dad memories attached to that truck.

“Can Roger go with me today?” he’d ask my mother at the breakfast table. Realizing I was within hearing range, she could hardly disapprove, yet she hesitated. Mom knew about the empty whiskey bottles under the seats of the pickup and even his construction equipment. He had a tendency to leave me sitting in the truck while he solicited business, often at a bar, or he would abandon me along some back road to pick wild strawberries or hazelnuts until he returned. It was a price I willingly paid to tag along and listen in on adult conversations.

I experimented with swearing. “Son of a Biscuit,” a safe adaptation, I thought, of construction and barroom language. It earned me a swift reprimand from my mother. I learned rather quickly to adjust to two different environments. I knew which one I preferred.

Once I drove Dad’s ’46 Ford pickup, long gone by the time I would have been old enough to comfortably reach all the pedals. Parked in the ditch in the way of the Caterpillar he was operating, Dad yelled and gestured to move the truck out of his path. My friend, John Tax, and I had gone with Dad to the construction site where we fished for bullheads at a nearby creek. Bored with that activity, we sat in the pickup and talked. I pretended to drive, something I did as a toddler steering from Dad’s lap.
I turned the key and snapped the toggle switch as Dad would have done. Sliding down to reach the clutch pedal with my left foot, I pressed the starter button with the toe of my right foot, my heel pressed against the metal spoon-like gas pedal. The engine roared, I jerked both feet back, and the truck jolted forward out of the ditch and onto an open field. It died on the spot.

Years later, I questioned if Dad had meant for John to move the truck. Two years older and a farm boy, John had driven tractors since he was my age. Perhaps, Dad felt too proud of his son’s courage to mention the misunderstanding.

My dad hadn’t gone to war. His critical occupation, road construction, exempted him from the draft. He built roads that hadn’t any military or even national impact. Apparently, the army drafted enough young men not building roads, or airplanes—my future father-in-law’s exemption, a job at Lockheed in California. (He ultimately returned to Minnesota to run the family farm earning a more secure deferment.)

The one physically aggressive action in my life occurred in the sixth grade. I got into a fight with a classmate, Marvin, alias Monkey, who thrived on abuse either given or received. He verbally taunted the younger brother of my friend, Dennis Flicker. A year older than me, I hoped to earn Dennis’ respect. Doubtfully, neither of them ever knew or know now about that fight.

I slammed—more like shoved—Monkey’s head onto the steps to the south door of our St. Joseph Grade School, built in 1920 and replaced by The Farmer’s and Merchant’s State Bank in 1970. Throughout the school’s fifty-year history, many fights more serious than ours must have occurred. The thud of Monkey’s head against the concrete still echoes in my mind, but I can’t recall any blood. I wonder how Marvin tells this childhood story, if he even recalls it.

John Tax witnessed the fight back in 1951. John would never embellish nor diminish what happened or his honest opinion of any event. Thirty five years later, he reminded me of a detail I tried to forget; I cried and Monkey didn’t. Truthfully, my concern at the time was hurting Marvin’s head, an effort that either confused him or convinced him that I was not very tough or that he was. Years later at a chance meeting the smile on Marvin’s scarred face showed a kind of pride in being able to take punishment.
My penalty for fighting, I must not fight on school grounds written 50 times. The sentence didn’t fit on a single line of my wide lined note book paper, so I couldn’t write one word 50 times and then go on to the next word and so on.

My father was a peace loving man. He never felt embarrassed for not defending liberty after Pearl Harbor or any other less lofty goal throughout his life. He considered stand and fight a necessary response only if threatened, but I never saw him fight or even show any defiance to a challenge. His response was, “Joe Lewis gets paid to fight. I don’t.”

I hated the expression but lived by that philosophy all my life. If I couldn’t talk my way out of a situation, I would retreat and accept the stigma of cowardice. I never bolstered my ego by making up stories about some past physical encounter.

Thank you, Dad.

FOURTH ENTRY: Discovering Some Facts of Life

TWO ROADS: Life’s philosophy shared with Robert Frost (Audio optional)

DECADE ONE: CONCEPTION TO PUBERTY: identity and a sense of self (Scroll down for earlier entries)

On or about their fourth wedding anniversary, my father’s Y chromosome merged with my mother’s X chromosome, the gender of this union privileged information but to God. I’d been conceived with honeymoon ecstasy and created great joy when their first son emerged from the womb, a bundle of male sexuality that would determine much of his behavior (haunt him) the rest of his life.

Lack of proper vocabulary hindered my sex education from the onset. My penis had no proper name in our household other than little guy that might fall out if I didn’t button up my pants. My father’s assigned task of explaining matters of sex began—and ended—with a sanitation issue. He cautioned me to pull the skin back or something awful might happen. He didn’t say foreskin, and not until high school gym class did I realize that some boys had been circumcised.

My first clue to the mysteries of birth, including how I’d been planted in my mother’s body, happened when my friend, Dennis, and I were six years old. While we were playing in our back yard, two of my pet rabbits copulated. With the the authority of a farm kid, he announced. “You’re gonna get baby rabbits.”

I nodded my agreement, already having embarrassed myself by fearfully crying our first day of school. We had discussed many weighty issues, such as our relationship after his aunt and my uncle married. Since we weren’t cousins and already were friends, we must have become enemies.

Back in the house, as my mother was changing my sister’s diaper, I snuck a peek at Kathy’s naked body and announced, “I’m gonna have baby rabbits.”

With diaper pins protruding from her lips, Mom quickly shielded Kathy’s crotch from me with the diaper. “Who told you that?”

“They were jumping on each other, and Dennis said they were making babies.”

Her smile disappeared. “He should have his mouth washed out with soap.” I got the feeling that the rabbits’ behavior, not my friend’s comment, caused her concern.

A few years and many rabbit litters later, I made a secret discovery never to be shared with my friend or my parents. After retrieving the family mail from the box a quarter mile from our house—one of my assigned chores—I stopped at my neighbor’s farm where older boys had informally adopted me as their kid brother. A strange family to my notion; warm milk from the barn poured on breakfast cereal, a toy steam engine that hissed and whirled but wasn’t to be played with, and their listening to adult radio soaps such as Ma Perkins and Hilltop House but not my favorite, Let’s Pretend.

I wandered into their empty barn except for one cow with a pair of miniature hooves peeking out from what I thought was her ass. I gawked until a calf emerged and then ran home, frightened and confused. I decided the incident never happened. I’d lived with this type of dilemma knowing Santa Claus and Easter Bunny weren’t real, yet accepting their rituals as if they were. By that age, I had accepted the concept of God as real, not just made up to make kids behave.

Thankfully, my parents didn’t hide the details of procreation behind the idiotic stork explanation. I certainly would have further embarrassed myself at school in front of Dennis and my entire class after Mom announced that a baby brother or sister would be arriving.

When my uncle and aunt got their second baby boy ahead of us, I complained, “That’s not fair. It should be our turn.” A clear case of injustice through the eyes of a nine year old boy with two sisters.

My mother laughed and said, “The hospital will let us know when our turn comes.” Another setback in my quest for the facts of life.

Herb and Marian—I hadn’t been taught to call them Aunt and Uncle—married when I was six and moved next door to us in a house that I helped build. My self-proclaimed job involved managing the nails. When the supply seemed low, I dumped boxes together mixing various sizes. Herb scolded, then showed me how to grab a handful, tap the bunch on a board, and pick out the taller ones. I did one hand full and then ran home afraid to return.

I recall an incident where Herb parked his new 1946 Ford coupe in our yard, probably using Dad’s new 1946 Ford pickup. He returned to find his keys missing. He hotwired the ignition and broke the lock in the steering column, causing a slight click when turning corners, a sound that continued ten years later when I drove it around his farm. He treated his family car like a tractor.

Reflecting on the car key incident at his funeral four decades later, I realized he probably thought I had hidden it. A five year old with his finger in his nose watching him jury-rig his new car must have pissed him off. I have no memory of any such theft, but according to my mother, it wouldn’t have been the first time I hid things like a pack rat. I have no memory of that behavior either.

A weird thing happened one evening when Herb and Marian joined us for supper. I sat on my metal white stool with a curved back rest, the same one I had been confined to facing the corner after biting my older sister, Joelle, in the stomach, although years later she remembered teeth marks on one of her eight-year-old breasts. I may have received a swat from my father, but I don’t recall him ever hitting me. However, my nose bled profusely, a childhood infirmity that once required medical attention after I shoved a kernel of corn into a nostril.

During supper that night, anxiety didn’t cause my nose to bleed, but I felt uncomfortable sitting alongside my uncle, probably because of my mixing different sizes of his nails. I doubt the car key incident entered my mind. I poured my glass of water onto my plate spilling across the table.

“Be careful,” Mother’s too late caution for most of my childhood accidents.

My baby brother, Glen, arrived, and Cousin Wade’s family moved, taking their house with them! I watched the men jack it up, slide wheels under it, and pull it to Pierz where it still stands. Herb resettled his family on a farm, where I would join them as a hired hand few years later.

THIRD ENTRY: An Alternate Universe of Just a Walter Mitty Moment

TWO ROADS: My philosophy shared with Robert Frost (Audio optional)  


Some people relive their past; I spend my idle moments in the future. My teachers labeled it daydreaming, but I prefer the term fantasizing. I cannot change yesterday, but tomorrows are mine to mold into an alternate universe.
Creating fantasies began soon after my birth. According to my mother, I would stare during waking hours as if in deep thought. Developing elaborate adventures became firmly established in my psyche as an adolescent. I entertained my mind by fantasizing various situations where I solved problems.

At the onset of boredom, I would choose from a half a dozen ongoing scenarios and advance the action much like the author of a novel where I performed the lead role. I even scripted dialogue—sometimes actually mouthed the words—and dwelt on the minutest details of all my creations.

The three months of isolation due to my bout with polio at age eleven became fertile ground for daydreaming. We had no TV and I didn’t take to reading as an adolescent, so I added structural details to my on-going secret lives, as I pondered and wandered within the boundaries of my house and yard to wile away boredom.

Living a few miles from town, I experienced a rather isolated childhood. My sisters and I seldom played together, because our family tradition of gender-based toys. One of my first role play memories was making engine sounds as I built roads in the sand box. In my case, and later with younger brothers, my parents expected rowdy play. Dad seemed to approve when I ran-the-wheels-off my toy trucks, tractors, and road graders. Since his outdated construction equipment needed constant repair, a possible lesson learned.

I recall role playing a traditional female activity only once. My mother and Grandma Diedrich, her mother, spent an afternoon patching old clothes and making new ones. I begged to participate. I agreed to wear a dress, her idea of cute, but when I tired of the activity, she told me to keep the dress on until Dad came home, her idea of more cute. I was probably five or six, but I still recall my panic. I don’t remember if she carried through with her threat.

By age ten, engaging in creative drama didn’t require props, or I only used them to ignite my imagination. I’d operate the controls in Dad’s broken down road graders and Caterpillars, and soon I was off negotiating complex contracts to build roads and purchase necessary equipment to complete the job. I dealt with labor problems as well as financial matters, always successfully.

Family chores and jobs around the neighborhood—paid or otherwise—consisted of menial and monotonous activities, the longest periods driving farm tractors. I would discover water in the desert and create an oasis of fertile land larger than all the farms in the county. With my road construction background, Caterpillar-like farm equipment replaced the local plow horses and John Deere sized tractors. I became a rock star and a great white hunter. At one point, I was a humanitarian who gathered refugees and sent them off to productive lives. After my neighbor’s milk cows strayed into a cornfield and bloated from overeating, I saved his entire herd by gagging them with kerosene-soaked rags until they vomited, a technique I had heard about. Obviously, I was treated as a hero. I created a few scenarios of military exploits, but most of my creations avoided danger or violence.

Sexual fantasies occurred before I was consciously aware of them. My mother’s favorite poverty exaggeration: if Roger hadn’t been a boy, he’d have nothing to play with.

I felt their impact already in grade school, and they zoomed to their dominant position by puberty which occurred suddenly on a Wednesday or a Thursday following recess in the seventh grade. Already by grade four or five I’d taken girl down to the rhubarb patch and described a kissing scene from a western movie I’d seen. She validated this story during our brief period of intimacy following my divorce. (Actually a few months preceding my divorce.) She even remembered me describing a buss, the brushing of lips against the cheek, but neither of us could recall if we acted on it. We both wished we had.

My first serious kiss that occurred in the ninth grade replayed in my mind the next day while sitting in the dentist’s chair, and many times since. Even day, I don’t dread having dental work done as many people do. I also get a little help from my friend, nitrous oxide, commonly called laughing gas.

Sexual fantasies beyond that first kiss will be reminisced in a future segment of this memoir, hopefully after they stop tormenting me.

SECOND ENTRY: An Embedded Childhood Memory


TWO ROADS: My philosophy shared with Robert Frost (Audio optional)


DECADE SEVEN: Exploration and mostly ill functioning body parts and DECADE ONE: Identity and a Sense of Self (Scroll down for earlier entries)

Secluded behind my Vegas home, my back pressed to patio floor, leg stretched vertical by a ribbon of rubber looped behind my neck, the sensual rays of the desert sun lavishing vitamin D across my naked skin, I am alive.

I count: “One, one-thousand; two, one-thousand; three…”

The scene darkens and drab green walls surround a bedridden pre teen boy. Hot moist woolen blankets replace the warmth of the sun against his lower back and legs, while a lady starched in white raises each of his cramping leg to less than vertical. My mind has taken me back to my interrupted fifth grade just a few days into the 1951-52 school year. I had contracted polio.

“Forty nine, one-thousand; fifty, one-thousand; fifty one…”

I visualize my Mother’s distraught and segmented face outside the barred window cracked open a smidgen for purposes of conversation. “You need to listen to doctors and nurses. They’re going to make you well again.” I don’t—didn’t—feel sick, but everyone else kept telling me otherwise.

With my forehead pressed to the window, I glimpsed my father’s face peering up at me, his hands grasping my mother who had been elevated to window level from a wobbly platform. She held a chocolate cake inches—it might as well been miles—from my face. “I made this for you.”

I winced, but thanked her. It would never pass the germ inspector to gain entry into this isolated ward. The wife of one roommate and the mother of the other attempted similar contraband intrusions with zero success. Outsiders should be protected from our disease, not the other way around.

“Ninety eight, one-thousand; ninety nine, one-thousand; one hundred!”

Legs released and lowered, knees raised and forced apart against the encircled ribbon of rubber, I begin exercise number two of seven.

“One, one-thousand; two, one-thousand; three…”

Chocolate cake with fluffy white frosting, a sensory memory safely tucked away for sixty years defies the scorching sun by sending a chill up and down my spine. The night before I fell ill, I overindulged in chocolate…. I can’t believe the reaction its memory still generates.

“Mom, I’m home,” my signal that her son had returned, probably too late for supper but hungry nevertheless. Silence. “Joelle? Kathy?” No response from my sisters. I yelled, “Jerry? Glen? ” I listened. Jerry, my infant brother, or Glen a year older wouldn’t answer, but everyone else in earshot should at least chuckle at the ridiculous notion. My role in the family had been telling jokes.

Left to fend for myself, I gorged on fried chicken from the refrigerator and topping if off with frosting-covered chocolate cake. The mild headache I’d been denying all afternoon erupted. I blamed the food which abruptly left my stomach, and I retreated to my parents’ bed. I have no memory of my family getting home. Nostalgia revisits only the highlights; head hurting, lonesome and frightened, the comfort of my parents’ bed, and the after taste of regurgitated chicken and cake. And a rush to the emergency room at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Little Falls.

The next morning, our family physician, Dr. Stein, prescribed a spinal tap; excruciating pain followed by mild hallucinations. I envisioned the doctor speaking into the telephone requesting a bed at Sister Kinney Hospital in Minneapolis for a boy who had p-o-l-i-o. He spelled the word, I assumed, to protect me from a harsh truth. Later, my mother admitted they had discussed my condition assuming I was asleep.

“Thirty eight, one-thousand; thirty nine, one-thousand; forty…”

The memory of sugar and cinnamon toast nudges out that of chicken and cake. A nurse—not the one who roasted my body with hot woolen towels (that smell still lingers) and contorted my legs every four hours—but the one whom I suspect was a volunteer who might have experienced her own polio-stricken child, brought my roommate and me cinnamon toast and Seven-Up, a treat I still relish. He and I dared each other to run down the hall, touch the nurses’ station, and run back. Once caught, our evening treats were threatened.

Our adult roommate had advanced stages of paralysis—I watched with keen interest as the nurse threaded a peeing tube into his penis—and ultimately required an iron lung where he probably spent the rest of his life.

The boy advised, “When you have a headache, a pillow is not your friend.” Jumping on his bed, he’d address an imaginary crowd, “Ladies and germs.” I remember those two utterances but not his name or anything else about him. I wonder where he is now.

“Fifty eight, one-thousand; fifty nine, one-thousand: sixty.”

On a positive note, our community rallied around my family; with my father’s construction business on the verge of collapse mostly due to his alcoholism, and with two recent babies in the family, we needed help. The Henry Preimesberger family rallied. Years later my sister Jackie, married his son, Tom, neither of them yet born in 1951. Henry had survived polio months earlier and offered emotional support, and his brother, Rod, transported me the one hundred miles to and from Minneapolis. My parents made the trip for a brief through-the-window visit and got into a car accident on the way home. A low point in my family’s history, but not as desperate as the following years with the arrival of three more babies and the total collapse of Dad’s business.

“Seventy eight, one-thousand; seventy nine, one-thousand: eighty.”

My convalescence occurred at home alone; my family dispersed between school, day care, and jobs—Mom at a garment factory and Dad struggling to keep his business afloat. Parents’ unwarranted fear of my contagion rather than my medical condition had extended my isolation until after Thanksgiving. Why I, but not John Tax with whom I’d spent the afternoon that fateful day, caught the polio virus created years of discussion between our two families. We weren’t wearing the string of garlic cloves around our necks, neither proving nor disproving the local precaution against the polio virus.

Reading material in our house consisted of a construction magazine and SATURDAY EVENING POST magazines passed on to us from our adult neighbor, Reine Konen, (A separate segment of this memoir will be include my relationship with him and his mother.) I kept busy by cutting cartoons from the magazine and pasting them into my scrapbook, an activity that may have contributed to my sense of humor.

“Seventy eight, one-thousand; seventy nine, one-thousand: eighty.”

To entertain my mind, I fantasized various situations where I would solve problems, the primary one salvaging my father’s construction business. At the onset of boredom, I would choose from a half a dozen ongoing scenarios and advance the action much like the author of a novel where I performed the lead role. I even scripted dialogue—sometimes actually mouthed the words—and dwelt on the minutest details of all my creations. I have continued this mental exercise into adulthood, culminating, I think, in writing novels.

“Ninety eight, one-thousand; ninety nine, one-thousand; one hundred!”

I release the band and lower my knees, a moment for the full stretch allowing my seventy-year-old body to gobble the sun’s rays. My exercise regime prescribed for a damaged sciatic nerve in an aging body, not a recurrence of polio-caused muscle breakdown. Like shingles, an adult disease related to childhood chicken pox, cases of polio reemerging years later have been recorded. However, other more subtle but life-long after effects can be attributed to my quarantine rather than the disease itself.

The rest of my day is free to read, write, critique, sing, visit, and gamble, my activities since retiring from thirty five years of teaching in Minnesota.



FIRST ENTRY: A Life Changing Event


TWO ROADS: Life’s philosophy shared with Robert Frost (Audio optional)


DECADE SEVEN: Exploration and mostly ill functioning body parts

My professional career spanned the last third of the twentieth century and completed its tenure in a year identified with three zeros, a number not occurring since the last millennium. No great coincidence, nor do I claim any special place in God’s plan for humankind. However, playing with the numbers, I decided to avoid gainful employment any future year with even one zero. I will be free to pursue various interests previously squeezed from my agenda by the demands of my career—until the year 2111. Hold my teaching position. I will be back.

First major life style change, a move to Las Vegas.

Laurie, my wife, asked, “Why Las Vegas?”

I shrugged. “No particular reason other than, like Mt. Everest, because it’s there.”

“Okay. I’ll pack my bags.”

Like a snake, I slithered out of my winter skin to a sun bleached desert brown from Minnesota’s alternating green and white.

Remnants of my past life that migrated with me were my birch business, supplying the western states with decorative Minnesota forest products, and our four children and three grandchildren who vicariously claim Las Vegas as a second home. No city other than Las Vegas would have elicited as many family and sibling visits.

My business, Books and Birch,  changed little other than I had more opportunities to deliver rather than ship loads of birch products to wholesale florists from Salt Lake City to San Francisco to San Diego and finishing with companies in Las Vegas.

Second life style change, an active participation in my adopted community, something I previously shunned. My excuse, community wasn’t available to me back in Minnesota. My wife at the time, Barb, and I raised our family in one community, I taught school in another, and business interests kept me tied to my family of origin one hundred miles from either of the other two.

My first foray into one of many active clubs in Del Webb Senior Community led to Sun City Writers Group. Twice a month we write on a given topic and read to the members. I have collected over one hundred of my creative writing exercises of 600 words or less to selectively publish on my blog.

Within the first decade of retirement, I achieved my post-career literary pursuit, to write the Great American Novel. I over achieved this goal with three great (small g) American novels and one set in outer space. Also, a short play and two memoirs with a third, my own, in progress, of which this is a part.

Church choir became my next challenge. A Minnesota couple invited us to join St Andrews Lutheran congregation and made us feel comfortable. They have since moved back to family, a common pattern with Minnesota transplants which we may eventually succumb to.

Next, a tryout with the Sun City Music Makers, a choral harmony group.

“What range do you sing?” A logical question from the director.

“The last time I participated in a choral group I still sang soprano.”

Without cracking a smile, he said, “Let’s hear you sing the scale.” To the pianist, “Give him a C.”

I sang up and down, each time to a higher and lower note.

“You’ve got a two octave range. Good. Can you read music?”

“A bit.” My memory slipped back to Sister Margot who taught half hour sessions for each of eight grades and directed our high school choir.

“If I told you to find D flat on measure ten, could you find it?”

“You mean those little black things have names.”

A muffled chuckle. “Maybe you should re audition after a few sessions with the Silvertones.”

Eight years I participated in the suggested sing-along group, three of them as their president, before joining the Music Makers.  I continue singing with both choral groups and the church choir, expecting to continue throughout the next decade.

My concert exposure reintroduced me to acting on stage, dormant since high school. Drafted into a Sun City Community Theater musical, I have since taken roles in half a dozen plays.

My literary involvements exceeded singing and acting performances: two book discussion groups, two writers’ groups, and two local critique groups and one on the internet.  I continue to write and edit previous works to publish on my website/blog.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, too few to mention, nor do I claim, I did it my way. My philosophy of life, I may not always get what I want, but I usually learn to want what I get.

A breakdown of my anticipated eighty five years alive on this planet:

25 years preparing for a career

35 years in that career

25 years beyond my career (10 more anticipated)

Any remaining years I intend to just idle away, probably lying on my back with life support tubes invading my body.