The Labourer’s Noon-day Hymn

31 08 2014

Up to the throne of God is borne
The voice of praise at early morn,
And he accepts the punctual hymn
Sung as the light of day grows dim:

Nor will he turn his ear aside
From holy offerings at noontide:
Then here reposing let us raise
A song of gratitude and praise.

What though our burthen be not light,
We need not toil from morn to night;
The respite of the mid-day hour
Is in the thankful Creature’s power.

Blest are the moments, doubly blest,
That, drawn from this one hour of rest,
Are with a ready heart bestowed
Upon the service of our God!

Each field is then a hallowed spot,
An altar is in each man’s cot,
A church in every grove that spreads
Its living roof above our heads.

Look up to Heaven! the industrious Sun
Already half his race hath run;
‘He’ cannot halt nor go astray,
But our immortal Spirits may.

Lord! since his rising in the East,
If we have faltered or transgressed,
Guide, from thy love’s abundant source,
What yet remains of this day’s course:

Help with thy grace, through life’s short day,
Our upward and our downward way;
And glorify for us the west,
When we shall sink to final rest.

William Wordsworth



Woodcraft 13: The Ranger

29 08 2014

I daresay everyone — to include those who live in the Arctic — everyone on the planet knows about wood and where wood comes from.  Human beings have been using wood longer than they’ve been able to read and write. Too few, however, realize that the sources of wood must be managed. Management is not walking into a forest and cutting anything and everything considered useful and hauling it away. That’s not management, that’s mining. Management is what my grandfather August practiced.

He owned his own small forest measuring almost 2000 acres located outside Waupaca.  This he tended according to established principles of German forestry, which meant in part that he practiced intensive care of the landscape of trees.  He also worked as a private consulting forester for his brother’s mill and for other owners of wood lots in the area.  For these clients, he went by established principles of American forestry.  Either way, German or American, he had to spend a lot of time in the woods.

He inspected individual trees and trees in groups called stands.  He identified them by species and measured their size, age, shape, health, and vigor. 

He did a tally, counting the trees. 

He checked for insect pests and diseases.

He assessed the risks of fire.

He studied the lay of the land and the flow of water over the land.  He sampled the soils of the land.

He noted the kinds of flora and fauna living there with the trees in the forest.

Doing all this during a long walk is what is called a timber cruise.  Putting all this together, one can calculate the quality of the forest and estimate its value to man and to nature. 

In estimating the forest’s value, my grandfather would then be able to tell someone how much wood existed of what kind and of what use.  Kind refers to species.  Use refers to whether the wood is good for pulp and paper; for posts and poles; for structural lumber such as studs and beams, or sash and frames, or shingles and shakes, or flooring and siding; for plywood and veneer; for furniture; for chemicals such as turpentine and tannins. The list can be a big one.

My grandfather could advise someone on the best ways to harvest wood.  Trees can be cut in a manner that will ruin the landscape for centuries.  That’s wood mining.  Other procedures cut the trees in a manner so as to maintain the landscape and allow trees to grow and grow again for centuries.  My grandfather would be able to advise someone on the best ways to replant the forest, and on the best ways to keep the existing forest green year after year indefinitely. That’s called sustained yield by professional foresters.  My grandfather would add that’s good stewardship.

Not everyone wants to have trees just to sell someday to a mill, of course.  Some want trees to provide a home for wildlife because they like the wildlife.  Some want trees just to have trees, because they like forests.  Some want trees just to have trees, because the Earth likes forests.  Some want trees just to have trees, because God must like trees in particular.  After all, he placed Adam and Eve in a garden called Eden, a place full of trees.

So my grandfather in his role as a forest ranger walked. He walked nearly every day, every week and every month, year after year, for decades. One day, however, after the onset of a nasty disease, he went too far.

Initial symptoms of the disease are weakness and fatigue.  My grandfather had just passed 70 years of age.  At first, he thought he was simply getting old.  He had also gradually become more and more thirsty.  He believed in drinking water, so drinking more seemed like a good thing to do.  As for the increasing frequency of urination, again he chalked that up to old age.  Then came some tingling in the hands and feet, which he could not explain to himself.  The symptom that snared him, however, was the reduced resistance to infections.

As a tough guy, he wouldn’t let old age keep him out of his forest.  He made his rounds that past autumn despite cold feet.  He had had cold feet before, many times, but he was tough. 

He kept walking that past autumn despite cramps and despite climbing pain. So? He was getting old.  He would nevertheless keep going.  He was tough, and he would resist old age.

He kept walking that past autumn despite corns on his feet.  Well, what ought one expect when breaking in a new pair of logger’s boots?  Besides, he had had corns and calluses before.  They would go away.

That past autumn, however, one of those corns became ulcerated.  Because of the narrowing of the blood vessels in Grandfather’s legs due to the onset of that disease, the blood did not circulate well.  The lesion on his foot did not heal well.  Indeed, it did not heal at all, no matter how long Grandfather waited.  And he waited, toughing it out, too long.  The lesion became infected with gangrene, some terrible additional disease I had heard about watching the cowboy TV shows.  It meant that my grandfather eventually — after he could wait no longer, after his wife would not allow him to wait any longer — had to have an amputation.

That winter, doctors cut his left leg off below the knee.

Some Christmas present for Grandfather.  One foot and part of a leg gets taken away.  So, too, his house and some of his land, which he exchanged for a new house on a smaller parcel of land located some many miles from his home.

We received a telephone call from Aunt Karla one sunny morning during strawberry season the next year.  She and Uncle Joseph wanted to take themselves and their kids on a two-week vacation.  “Do you think,” she asked my mother, “that you could come over and help Halfrida while we’re away?”

Grandmother and Grandfather had moved, rather suddenly, from Waupaca to Neenah. They sold the old house in which they had lived for decades, the one in which Grandfather himself had been reared.  They bought a new one, and transported selected belongings from one place to another.  Permanently. 

“Why did Grandfather and Grandmother have to move?” I asked as we rode in my mother’s car from Wisconsin Rapids toward the Fox Cities. 

“Your grandfather’s condition all but required it,” my mother answered.  “He needs on-going medical attention, and the old house was not all that close to the hospital in Waupaca.  Moreover, he needs on-going nursing care.  Your grandmother has been more than willing to try, but you know that your grandfather can be trying.  Your grandmother can do only so much at her age.  She needs help.  Your Aunt Karla thought it would be good for them to move close to her family’s home, close enough to allow her more easily to help day after day.”

 “What does Aunt Karla do that Grandmother can’t?” I asked.

“The main thing is to gang up on your grandfather,” my mother said.

“What?” my sister asked. 

“Your grandfather has always been the kind of man who takes charge.  Of himself.  Of his family.  Of his business.  This illness is forcing some changes.  He doesn’t like being forced.  But change he must.”

“How must he change?” Joanna asked.

“Well, first and foremost, he must realize that he can’t do the things he used to do,” my mother answered. 

“You mean, like walking,” I said.

“We all hope he can walk.  He’s got to accept an artificial limb, though.  And he has to learn how to use that artificial limb.  In order to be able to use it, he has to work to manage his disease.  He has to do the things that will improve his health enough so that he can use the artificial limb without causing more damage to himself.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“Try that again, Kurt.”

“Oh.  What must he do to manage his disease?”

“He must do many things,” my mother answered.  “First, he must stop or all but stop eating sweets.”

“You mean, no more candy?” Joanna asked.

“That is correct.  No more candy, among other things.”

“No more cake and ice cream?” I asked.

“No pie?  No cookies?” Joanna asked.

“Why are you so surprised?” my mother asked.  “We’ve told you this before, your father and I.”

Yes, but the magnitude of the problem hadn’t been realized.  It was hard for Joanna and me to believe that anyone would have to do without dessert.  That just seemed an impossible task, like trying to live without air.

“And that’s tough for a man who likes his pastry and his chocolate,” Mother confirmed.

“No chocolate at all?” Joanna and I both exclaimed.

“That’s not all,” Mother said.  “Grandfather must eat less fat.  That means cutting out or cutting way back on meats and dairy products.  And that’s tough for a man who likes his butter and cheese, his sausage, ham, bacon, and other pork.”

“What about hotdogs and hamburgers?” I asked.

“The list includes those items, too.”

I shook my head.  “That’s bad,” I said.

“Your grandfather needs to lose weight,” Mother said.

“He’s not fat,” Joanna protested.

“No, not by much,” Mother agreed.  “But he does need to lose twenty pounds.  It’s been months now, and he’s lost only five.  You see, your grandfather doesn’t like all these changes that have come into his life.  He has to stop eating a large number of foods he likes to eat.  Moreover, he has to eat smaller meals and more of them.”

“Why?” Joanna asked.

“We’ve told you that diabetes is a disease wherein glucose and insulin are the critical concerns.  If the body does not make enough insulin, the body cannot use enough of the glucose that is present in the blood from eating food.  Eating too much food at a sitting overloads the body’s ability to produce the insulin necessary to process the glucose.  So, Grandfather must eat, say, six times a day instead of three.”

“You mean, he gets to eat two breakfasts, and two lunches, and two dinners?” Joanna asked.

“You can say he can eat two breakfasts, two lunches, and two suppers.  He may not eat any dinners.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Dinners, by definition, are too big.  Grandfather must eat smaller meals more frequently.  And again, that’s tough for a man who likes a big, lumberjack-style breakfast early in the morning, and a full dinner at noon, and a supper in the evening.  As you know, your grandfather has his set routine, and he demands punctuality.  Breakfast is at 6 o’clock in the morning.  Dinner is exactly at noon.  Supper is at 6 o’clock in the evening.  Now that routine has changed.”

“And he doesn’t like the changes,” Joanna said.

“You can say that again,” said Mother.

So I said, “And he doesn’t like the changes.”

“Kurt…” said my mother, looking squarely at me.

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Even though the changes are good for him, even though the changes are necessary, he is resisting the changes.”

“So what are we going to do?” Joanna asked.

“We’re going to try and help your grandmother help your grandfather, as I’ve said.  Grandfather doesn’t like these changes, and he doesn’t like being bossed by Grandmother.  Nevertheless, he must be bossed.”

“Because he’ll die if he doesn’t make the changes?” I concluded.

“He could die, yes.  That is what we fear.  He will die sooner than necessary, either of hyperglycemia or of heart failure.  Or he will at least make himself more miserable.”

“What does that hyper-word mean?” I asked.

“It means that the cells of your body starve to death because they can’t use the glucose sugar for energy.  The glucose just stays in the blood unused, and that in itself will cause trouble.  Too much glucose in the blood damages nerves and blood vessels.  Such damage in the arteries can cause the heart failure.”

“That’s too bad,” I said.

“That’s why Grandfather is also having to take shots of insulin.”

That both Joanna and I remembered hearing our parents describe.  They had seen to it that we got various shots to guard against such diseases as polio, smallpox, tetanus, measles, diphtheria, and such.   The experience was hard to forget.  Back in those days, the needles were bigger.  And they hurt more.

“Ouch,” I said.  “I wouldn’t want to do that.”

Mother said, “We’re hoping that your grandfather won’t have to continue the shots if he can be successful doing the other things he needs to be doing.  We’re hoping he can achieve relatively good health.”

“Yeah,” Joanna agreed.  “We don’t want Grandfather to die.”

“And that’s why we’re on our way to Neenah.  Your grandmother needs help persuading your grandfather to do the things he needs to do.  She can only do so much.  He will let her do only so much, and even so, she gets tired.  She’s not as young as she used to be.  Aunt Karla has been helping, but they’re going on vacation.  So we are taking a vacation ourselves to Grandfather’s new house.”

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Woodcraft 12: Music

23 08 2014

 I remember the dinner at which the family debated the relative merits of old German music.  I say old.  To me at the time, anything not then being played on the radio was old.  The discussion commenced with Grandmother Halfrida humming a tune written by Robert Schumann, one that came from his Poet’s Love song cycle.  Hearing her as we waited while she cleared the table before dessert, Grandfather August asked, “Who was the greatest German composer?”

Now there was a question for people of German descent to argue.  I have been told that, in the days of my grandfather and his father, music played an integral part in one’s German ethnic identity.  If you were German, you either sang or played an instrument. 

I have wondered how much of that was a legacy of Martin Luther.  “Music is the art of the prophets, the only art that can calm the agitations of the soul; it is one of the most magnificent and delightful presents God has given us,” he said.  “Music makes people kinder, gentler, more staid and reasonable.  I am strongly persuaded that, after theology, there is no art that can be placed on a level with music; for besides theology, music is the only art capable of affording peace and joy….”

We pondered. 

Aunt Karla sat next to me.  She taught music in the public school system of Appleton, and she also taught lessons to children at home.  Her husband, Joseph, worked as a chemist for a paper mill, and he preferred math to music. He sat on her right, so she turned to me on her left and asked, “What do you say?”

I hardly knew.  My experience of such music had largely been limited to the snippets employed in a number of the better-crafted cartoons run and rerun on TV.  I had three names in my head at the moment: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.  I doubt that I had heard the names mentioned in the cartoons.  Perhaps I heard them at school.  More likely I heard them mentioned by family members at one time and another. I picked one at random.  “Brahms.”

“Brahms,” Aunt Karla repeated.

That would be Johannes Brahms, who was born in Hamburg and lived between 1833 and 1897.

People nodded. 

“A fair choice, Kurt,” Aunt Karla said.  “He was a virtuoso pianist and a fine conductor, as well as an influential composer.”

“Many of his big works breathe of the great outdoors,” Grandfather said.

“He could be serious,” said Grandmother.  “He could also be humorous.”

“Heroic,” said Uncle M.C.  “At times.  Autumnal at times, too.”

I gave him a blank look.

“Autumnal?” he assumed.  “That means mature to over-mature.  Getting old.  Going into decline.” 

I nodded.

“But at his best,” added Aunt Karla, “Brahms was lyrically poetic and deeply emotional.”

“Though he tended to submit thought to feeling, I think,” said Grandfather.  “After all, he was at the center of the Romantic movement.”

  “He had a highly personal style that could often be masterful,” said Aunt Karla.  “However, he was no pioneer of new trails.  Instead, as a great student of old music, he explored many paths of the past: that of Schumann, Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn.” 

People thought so more.

My father gave a second answer, saying, “Mahler.”

“Mahler?” Aunt Karla and Grandfather responded.

That would be Gustav Mahler, who lived between 1860 and 1911.

“He was born in Bohemia,” Aunt Karla said.  Kalischt, to be more exact, which is located in what is now the Czech Republic.

“He spoke German, though.  He wrote in German.  He composed in German.  You know that,” my father said.

“Yes, of course,” Grandfather said.  “He was Austrian.  But he was a conductor.  A fine one, yes.  Especially of German opera.”

“He was a composer.  He wrote nine symphonies and six song cycles,” my father said.  “Well, make that ten symphonies, plus three when he was a student, plus one that he never finished.”

“So?” Grandfather asked.  “That’s hardly prolific.”

“And so much of his music is so moody,” said Grandmother.  “So haunted by desolation and loneliness and longing.”

“He was a humanist,” my father said.  “If there is depression in some of his music, it is because he was disappointed by the so-called civilized people of Europe.  And besides, there is more to his material.  There is the love of the countryside, of nature.”

“That just shows he was an anti-social man.  A lonely, brooding outsider of a man,” Grandfather said.

“But he wasn’t an outsider,” Aunt Karla said.  “Mahler can hardly be considered inventive.  He worked very much within established Austrian and German forms.  He worked under the influence of such men as Beethoven and Wagner.”

“What artist does not work under the influence of at least some of those who have preceded?  There is always the burden of prior achievement,” my father claimed.

“But some artists are more innovative, are more creative, than others,” said Aunt Karla. 

“He worked within the Romantic movement, yes, even that late in the century, but not to the exclusion of new ideas,” my father said. “His song cycles show innovation in harmony and form. Yes, his music is full of personal feelings, some somber and some soaring.  But always there is sensitive beauty.  And nobody could handle an orchestra the way he could.  He was a perfectionist, a craftsman attending to every detail so that he could exhibit or reveal everything in a composition.  No wonder he produced a relative few works. Such workmanship is not done quickly.”

“Sprawling is the word I would use about his work,” Aunt Karla said.

“Epic,” my father insisted.

“When did he get so smart about that guy, whoever-he-was?” I whispered to my sister.  When did he listen to such music?  Not when we were watching TV.  Not when we were in bed.  I found out later that he did much of his attentive listening on days when he worked at home, when he ate lunch.  Such luncheons provided food for the spirit as well as the body.

“Nobody handled an orchestra the way Wagner did,” Uncle M.C. said.  “And singers.”

That would be Richard Wagner, who was born in Leipzig and lived between 1813 and 1883.

“He single-handedly changed the nature of opera,” Uncle M.C. continued.  “He changed it from what had become mere shallow spectacle to powerful drama expressing ideas of the deepest significance.”

“He was an apostate,” Grandmother said.  “And an adulterer.”

Apostate: someone who abandons or rebels against established religious teaching.  Grandmother would have in mind the teachings of German Lutherans and Catholics and even Anabaptists: the precepts of Christianity in general, based primarily upon the teachings of the Prophets and the Apostles.

Adulterer: someone who is unfaithful to a spouse by giving sexual love to another.  Grandmother would also have in mind one who breaks a holy promise of being faithful to a spouse — one’s first spouse, in particular — a promise made not only to that spouse during a wedding ceremony, but also to God. 

“His was the music of the future, as disciples said at the time,” Aunt Karla declared.

“He all but invented the leitmotif,” declared Uncle M.C.

Leitmotif: a short musical sequence that represents a person, place, or thing, and even an idea.  The device is common today, especially in music composed for television and motion pictures.

“He didn’t invent the leitmotif,” Grandfather said.

“I didn’t say that,” said Uncle M.C.  “But he was the one who mastered its use and taught everyone after him how to use it.  And nobody could tap the human psyche in all its subtleties and sophistication like Wagner.”

“He was a Romantic,” said Grandfather, “perhaps of the worst sort.  His music wallows in passionate emotionalism.”

“Well,” answered Uncle M.C.  “If you want prolific, then I suppose you want Mozart.”

That would be Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  Born in Salzburg, he lived between 1756 and 1791.  Within that short life, was he prolific?  Yes, indeed. Eighteen operas.  Forty-one symphonies.  Twenty-six string quartets.  Twenty-five piano concertos.  Nineteen piano sonatas.  Forty-two violin sonatas.  Six violin concertos.  Concertos for flute, for bassoon, for horn, for clarinet, for flute and harp.  Ten quintets.  One ballet and twenty-three sets of dances.  Thirty-four songs.  Twenty canons.  Nineteen masses and litanies.  The list can go on.

“Mozart was a complete genius, yes.” Grandfather said.

“And he was a Romantic,” Uncle M.C. said.

“No,” Aunt Karla wanted to correct, but she was interrupted.

“A pre-Romantic,” Uncle M.C. clarified. “By fifty years.”

“Quite right,” Grandfather said.  “That’s why Haydn is better.”


That would be Franz Joseph Haydn. Born in Rohrau, Austria, he lived between 1732 and 1809.

“Yes, Haydn,” Grandfather repeated.  “If you want to talk about doing things single-handedly, he did it …. though I’m sure he put to good use both his hands.  Ah, but his work is the center and the substance of the Classical period.  He can well be considered the father of the symphony and of the string quartet.”

“Or at least the man who explored and established the sonata-allegro form,” said Aunt Karla.

“Classical,” Uncle M.C. snarled.  “Too formal.  Too symmetrical.  Too simple.”

“Ah, you,” Grandfather growled.  “I thought I reared you better than that.  Listen, my son: there is a difference between opulent and elegant.”

Opulent: wealthy, rich, splendid, lavish.  As Grandfather used the term, abundantly supplied to the point of excess.  Overdone.  Overwrought.  Ostentatious.  Pretentious.  Even profligate.  “Too much is too much,” he would say.

Elegant: tastefully fine and gracefully refined while also being exact, precise, and beautifully simple.  Stately.  Noble.  Grandfather would perhaps even say, “August.”  

“There’s no denying Haydn’s place in music,” Uncle M.C. said.  “But I find it too simple, too quaint, too boring.”

Grandfather shook his head.

Uncle M.C. added, “It’s sterile.”

Grandfather put his head in his hands.  “Oh, the shame of having such a son as this one.”  He joked, of course.  He declared, “The man was a genius for musical construction.  And the fertility of his musical ideas….”

“Well, yes.  I’ll grant that the man certainly was prolific,” Uncle M.C. said.

True.  Haydn composed one-hundred-four symphonies.  Eighty-three string quartets.  Fifty-two piano sonatas.  Fifteen piano concertos, plus others for violin, horn, trumpet, flute, and cello.  Thirty-five piano trios.  Nineteen operas. Fourteen masses.  Two oratorios.  His list can go on.

“Your man Mozart both admired and respected Haydn.  Mozart loved him,” Grandfather sad.

“Haydn was the champion of Mozart.  He said that Mozart was the greatest composer he had ever heard,” Uncle M.C. retorted.

“They were good friends,” Aunt Karla said.  “But Mozart, for all his quick-witted genius and simply stupendous memory, was not a great innovator.  He was fast.  He was prolific.  He was dazzling.  But he worked with the musical ideas of his time to compose things to his personal liking.”

“Well, now,” said Grandmother.  “This means we must consider Bach.”

That would be Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born in Eisenach and lived between 1685 and 1750.

Grandmother Halfrida was herself a musician.  She played both piano and organ, and often performed as a substitute at the big Lutheran church she and her husband attended in Waupaca.  If it hadn’t been for her talents, skills, and interests throughout her adult life, the discussion being recalled here would not have been possible. 

Halfrida’s children grew up at a time prior to the availability of high fidelity playback equipment to common householders.  They grew up during the Great Depression, so there would not have been much money to buy such equipment if it had been available.  Indeed, that included the relatively simple phonographs then on the market, the ones that played 78 rpm records.  All they had was radio and the music available via radio during the 1920s and 30s.  What Manfred and Georg and Karla knew about “old” music came largely as a result of what Halfrida played for them at home and at church. 

The remainder of their knowledge came after the war.  Within years, the technology improved dramatically.  Records, for example, became available in 45 rpm and 33 rpm formats.  Stereophonic sound became available.  As soon as they could afford to buy their own records and playback equipment, Halfrida’s children continued their listening, this largely as a result of her earlier inspiration.

“Yes, of course,” said Grandfather August.  “Bach.  The master of Baroque polyphonic music.”

“Now there was a man who was steeped in two German styles, plus French, then Italian.  Yet he could improvise his own music better than anyone,” Grandmother said.

Aunt Karla said, “Inventive, yet intellectual.  Logical, yet expressive.  Individual, even deeply personal, yet meaningful to a large audience.”

“And who else could write the lyrics and compose the music for a new cantata or oratorio, and conduct both the choir and the chamber orchestra in how to perform it, and do that monthly, even weekly?” Grandfather asked.

“Who could put so much depth and breadth of musical and devotional experience into a cantata?” Grandmother asked.  “ ‘To the glory of God’ he did say of his music.  There is a great deal of that glory in his music.”

People nodded.  The adults, that is.  We kids waited patiently for dessert.  But I had something in mind yet.  To satisfy my shallow curiosity, and to show off a little, I asked, “What about Beethoven?” 

“What about Beethoven, Kurt?” Aunt Karla asked.

I should have anticipated that.  I had no idea how to answer with any knowledge or wisdom.  I just replied, “Nobody has said anything about him.”

“Quite right, Kurt,” said my father.  “Quite right.”

Ludwig van Beethoven.  Born in Bonn.  Lived from 1770 to 1827.

“Now there was a man who supplanted your elegance, Father,” Uncle M.C. said.    “He didn’t just provide pretty background music to ease the idleness of the rich.  He was bold, robust, even brazen.”

“Wild, you mean,” said Grandfather.

“Free,” said my father.  “It was a time of revolution: the French Revolution, such as it was, and the American Revolution before that.  Freedom was in the wind.  Beethoven heard it and put it to music, perhaps better than anyone.  In certain ways, his music was like the wind.  It could be soft, and it could be loud.  It could be gentle, and it could be blasting.  It could be as balmy as a spring breeze, and it could be as violent as a summer thunderstorm.”

Aunt Karla said, “He was a virtuoso pianist.  A phenomenal improviser.  A master of timing and of proportion.  He made the symphony truly symphonic by uniting what had been four separate movements into a family procreated from one unifying, melodic seed.”

“And he was an overcomer,” said Grandmother.  “Kurt, did you know that, among other challenges, Beethoven was deaf for the last half of his career?  Yet he was able to write some of the greatest music of any human being ever.  Nobody worked harder than he did.”

“In the last third of his career,” my father said, “he composed music that still sets standards of excellence today.”

“Extraordinary,” said Aunt Karla.  “Exquisite.  Sublime.” 

“It exposes the very spirit of the human being,” my father said.

People nodded.

My mother was setting the dishes filled with dessert.  “Mom,” I said.  “Who do you like?”

She answered, “I like….”

Sorry, I can’t report what came as a well-timed punch line for fear of infringing on the man’s right to celebrity … or more accurately, that of the man’s estate. To an extent, he’s still in business, so I’ll make this a riddle instead.

The mystery man is the bandleader who had a popular TV show at the time of our dinner discussion.  He hailed from Strasburg, North Dakota, but he was of German descent and did speak with a noticeable accent.  He and his band played some pretty good polkas, and my mother liked polkas.  He and his band also played waltzes.  Otherwise, he was known for what he called champagne music.  Actually, in my later hearing, it was more like soda pop.

Upon hearing her response, all members of the family just looked at my mother.  They didn’t know whether to laugh with open-mouthed gusto or to sit silent with jaws hanging down.

My mother winked at me when she gave me my dessert.

Remember, what I knew of “old” music at the time was largely confined to what I heard in cartoons.  Those cartoon snippets, by the way, went a long way in encouraging me to pay more and more attention as I aged. However, there is no way I could have reported this dinner discussion based on my own recollection.  I didn’t have the memory of Mozart, and I didn’t have the understanding of Mozart at that age, either.

My mother recited the facts to me.


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Woodcraft 11: Dinner

22 08 2014

My mother was a good cook, better than her mother and almost as good as her husband’s.  Never vain about her ability or lack thereof, like her husband, she always aspired to be better.  Always willing to learn, my mother persistently attended to Grandmother Halfrida’s culinary practices. 

She didn’t mind being called Grandma, by the way.  In the presence of her husband August, however, it was to be Grandmother.  Grandfather August was a man of honor, meaning he was both capable and reliable.  To be both required discipline.  Possessing all four traits, he commanded respect.  He also demanded respect.  He was, therefore, not shy about disciplining the rest of us in the family whenever he thought it necessary and proper.

Grandmother Halfrida went along with her husband.  As a person of discipline herself, she wasn’t shy about passing that on.  However, while Grandfather August conducted himself like a military officer, she performed like a pastor.  Both of them could exhort and encourage, but August seemed to rely more on the former while Halfrida relied more on the latter.

My father exhorted my mother to learn how to cook some of the dishes he had learned to like growing up.  His parents had been staunch about maintaining authentic ethnic cooking, and Halfrida expressed willingness to share her expertise.

Here are some words to chew on representing what my mother — as alternatives to normal American fare — fed my father, my sister, and me.

Hasenpfeffer.  Marinated, seasoned, and braised rabbit.

Koenigsberger Klopse.  German meat balls made with a combination of beef, veal, and pork.

Gugelhupf.  A cake-like bread made from batter rather than dough.

Lebkuchen.  German honey cakes.

Marzipan.   Almond paste candy.

Muerbeteig.  A rich egg pastry.

Nockerln.  Another version of dumplings.

Pfeffernuessse.  Hard cookies made with pepper.

Schnecken.  Snail-shaped buns.

Springerle.  Cookies flavored with anise.

Jaegertorte.  German hunter’s cake flavored with lots of almond and a little lemon and frosted with chocolate.

My mother prepared cabbage Bavarian style, which meant it was flavored with onions, bacon, and vinegar.  Despite the last ingredient, I could swallow it more easily than German potato salad because it also had brown sugar. 

More easy to swallow was Sauerbraten, a pot roast of beef that has been soaked for days in spiced vinegar, then cooked.  What helped was the gravy made with gingersnaps.

Less easy to swallow was Sauerkraut.  That’s German for fermented cabbage.  And that’s all it is: cabbage allowed to ferment in a salt-water brine. 

Bread of some kind was served with every meal.

We ate a lot of sausage: bratwurst, mettwurst, liverwurst, knockwurst, and others. That included kinds both Polish and American.

Spaetzel was a favorite of my father.  I liked them, too.  The name refers to tiny egg dumplings.  As an alternative, we ate mashed potato dumplings called Kartoffel Kloesse.

I remember an occasion one autumn when Grandmother had encouraged my mother to demonstrate some of her newly acquired culinary skills to the entire family.  Entire meant not only Mother and Father, my sister, and myself, but also Grandfather August and Grandmother Halfrida, Uncle Manfred and his wife Margaret with their three children, and Aunt Karla and her husband Joseph with their three children.  That was quite a group for whom to prepare a schnitzel dinner with all the appetizers, sides, drinks, and dessert. 

It was also quite a group for whom to make table.  My father had anticipated such an event early in his marriage, though.  The rooms of the lower level of the house flowed into one another, so more than one could be used for dining. He also made sure to make a table that could be expanded as the family expanded. 

At that dinner, Uncle Manfred decided to go by what may be termed corporate initials.  He was an executive climbing the corporate ladder at a big paper products company in Green Bay.  With memories of World War 2 still strong when he started working there, he didn’t want his name to cause him or anyone else trouble. So, at first he chose to go by Fred. 

That was fine until he earned a significant promotion.  A situation comedy starring cartoon cave people had just become a hit television program, and Uncle Manfred became uncomfortable with his nickname.  As an executive, he said he could no longer tolerate a name that had become so well associated with a buffoon.  Needing something more respectable, he pondered, “I wonder if I can get away with Manfred.”

Indignant, Grandfather August asked, “And why not?  That is your name, after all.  It is the good name your mother and I gave you.”  Manfred means man of peace; it refers to one who is heroic in being the champion of peace.

Uncle Manfred had no peace with himself, however.  He said, “But what do people think when they hear the name?  Manfred von Richtofen, the Red Baron, a World War 1 German fighter pilot who shot down eighty Allied flyers.”

“You don’t want to be thought of as an ace in business?” Aunt Margaret asked.

“I don’t want to be thought of as an enemy.”

“I think of Mighty Manfred,” I said.

The other kids at the table started to snicker.

“Who?” Uncle Manfred asked.

“Manfred the Wonder Dog,” I repeated.  He was the sidekick of another cartoon character who appeared on a popular network children’s TV show weekday mornings. The dog caused wonder mainly in his ability to sleep through anything.

“Oh, that helps,” said Uncle Manfred.  “Actually, I was thinking of going by Charles.”  That was his middle name.  “You know.  As in Charles Martel.  Charles Dickens.  Charles Lindbergh.  Charles Goodyear.  Charles Pfizer.”

“Charles Ives,” my aunt Karla added.

My sister Kristel added the star of a popular comic-strip having the same first name as his creator (who happened to be a good Methodist).

The kids at the table laughed again.

Then my father couldn’t resist adding, “Since you’re in charge of obtaining pulpwood for the mill, you can go by Wood Chuck.”

That did it.  Uncle Manfred announced he would go by M.C. thereafter.  And it stuck.

woodcraft 1


August Moon

20 08 2014

In the smooth grey heaven is poised the pale half moon
And sheds on the wide grey river a broken reflection.
Out from the low church-tower the boats are moored
After the heat of the day, and await the dark.

And here, where the side of the road shelves into the river
At the gap where barges load and horses drink,
There are no horses.    And the river is full
And the water stands by the shore and does not lap.

And a barge lies up for the night this side of the island,
The bargeman sits in the bows and smokes his pipe
And his wife by the cabin stirs.    Behind me voices pass.

Calm sky, calm river: and a few calm things reflected.
And all as yet keep their colours; the island osiers,
The ash-white spots of umbelliferous flowers,
And the yellow clay of its bank, the barge’s brown sails
That are furled up the mast and then make a lean triangle
To the end of the hoisted boom, and the high dark slips
Where they used to build vessels, and now build them no more.

All in the river reflected in quiet colours.
Beyond the river sweeps round in a bend, and is vast,
A wide grey level under the motionless sky
And the waxing moon, clean cut in the mole-grey sky.
Silence.    Time is suspended; that the light fails
One would not know were it not for the moon in the sky,
And the broken moon in the water, whose fractures tell
Of slow broad ripples that otherwise do not show,
Maturing imperceptibly from a pale to a deeper gold,
A golden half moon in the sky, and broken gold in the water.

In the water, tranquilly severing, joining, gold:
Three or four little plates of gold on the river:
A little motion of gold between the dark images
Of two tall posts that stand in the grey water.

There are voices passing, a murmur of quiet voices,
A woman’s laugh, and children going home.
A whispering couple, leaning over the railings,
And, somewhere, a little splash as a dog goes in.

I have always known all this, it has always been,
There is no change anywhere, nothing will ever change.

I heard a story, a crazy and tiresome myth.

Listen! behind the twilight a deep low sound
Like the constant shutting of very distant doors,

Doors that are letting people over there
Out to some other place beyond the end of the sky.

John Collings Squire

 And he was going throughout towns and villages, teaching and making his journey toward Jerusalem.  And someone said to him, “Lord, are there only a few who are saved?”

And he said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able to,  when once the master of the house has gotten up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’

And he will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from!’

 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets!’

And he will reply, saying to you, ‘I do not know where you are from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’ 

In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves thrown outside! And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.  And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

Luke 13:22-30 (Lexham English Bible)

Woodscraft 10: Shop Rules

16 08 2014

Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness

That precept is not in the Bible.  People may think it is, but it isn’t.  The man who made a point to preach it — John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist churches — seemed to think that it ought to be. My parents and both pairs of my grandparents lived as if it were. 

Slovenliness, to use Wesley’s term, had no place in our family.  Could I follow the fashion of the day and dress the way the other boys did?  In warm weather, fad dictated  wearing one’s shirt outside one’s pants and with all the buttons undone, revealing the white T-shirt underneath.  Not I, however … at least, not within sight of my mother or father.

If the T-shirt for some reason had to be visible, it had better be white.  Snow white.  And don’t even think about rolling up its short sleeves.

If pants or trousers had belt loops, then a belt was to be worn passing underneath every loop. 

The legs of dress pants were long enough to touch the tops of the feet.  The creases along the pant legs were to be sharp and crisp with exactly one kink.

The sleeves of dress shirts reached to the back of the hands.  The cuffs of suit coats and sports jackets went to the wrist.  Between one-quarter and one-half inch of shirt cuff was to be visible below.

And by the way, one did not put his hands in his pockets unless he was getting something out: a pen, some money, a handkerchief, a stick of gum, something. Otherwise, “Keep your hands out of your pockets.”  Why?  It looked slovenly.  Worse, it looked indolent: lazy, habitually lazy.  Hands were made to do something worthwhile, something productive, something enterprising.  Hands should not be so idle that they had nothing to do other than loaf in pockets.

And so it went.  Not just with regard to dress, either.

Litter was disgraceful.  One ought not throw it anywhere.  One ought not allow it anywhere on one’s property, not for one day, if possible, and certainly not by the coming Sunday.

Fencerows were to be clean of weeds.  So, too, gardens, crop fields, and pastures.  Fields in the spring and fall had better be tilled clean of all residue (regardless of the potential for exposed soil being eroded by wind and rain).  Furrows plowed through fields must be straight as a beam of light.

When it came to housework, my mother strove mightily every day except Sunday.  Her home would always ready to serve as a guest location for any of the popular family situational comedies seen on television.

My father kept his trucks in fine condition, but they tended to look as though a working man worked them.  My mother, however, kept her cars in showroom condition.  One dared not throw or kick or shoot anything if her car gleamed anywhere within range.

As for my father’s shop, there was a place for everything, and everything was to be in its place.  That meant tools, every one of which everyone treated as if it were made of sterling.  That also meant, at the end of every work day, all wood scraps went into bins, all wood shavings went into barrels, and all wood dust went into vacuum cleaners.

No Smoking

That made sense, of course, what with wood and wood residue all over the place.  But the shop rule went further than that.  Neither of my parents smoked, and neither approved of smoking.  (That didn’t keep my father’s father from smoking his imported German pipes on occasion.)

Now, back in those days, tobacco products existed everywhere.  About the only place one could go to get away from tobacco smoke and spittle was inside a church sanctuary. 

Advertisements for tobacco products presented themselves everywhere: in newspapers and magazines, on billboards, on the radio, and on television.

And candy versions of tobacco products for kids were everywhere.  They included cigarettes, cigars, and even chewing tobacco.  The ‘chaw’ was bubble gum.  So, too, were the cigars; they came in pink, green, and yellow.  Candy cigarettes came as paper-wrapped chocolate.  The candy looked a lot like the real thing in their suave plastic cases, but the look had to be spoiled to get at the candy.  Candy cigarettes also came in hard mint form packaged in boxes that mimicked real brands available.  Each piece was white with some red food coloring added at one end to give it that lit-up look.  It tasted terrible.  One may as well have eaten the real tobacco product flavored with menthol.

Cowboys smoked.  My mother, who let me use fake guns, would not let me use fake cigarettes.  A pal of mine gave me a pack once.  Only once.  The first time my mother saw me riding around the yard sucking — or trying not to suck — on one of those candies, she quickly had something to say.  “Get that filthy thing out of your mouth.  You look and smell like a demon.”


“You heard me.”

“What do you mean, smell?  This is mint.  Sort of.”

“Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Act like it.  Spit that thing out.”

But not on the ground.  No littering.  The whole package of candy went into the garbage can, and I had to rely on toothpicks thereafter.

No Drinking

My father had every intention of making it to retirement with all his fingers intact.  He would say, “When working, one must be alert, under control, and in command.”  He meant working anywhere,  but his precept applied especially in his shop, what with all that electricity and all those power tools with all those sharp edges.

My mother would recite, “Who hath woe?  Who hath sorrow?  Who hath contentions?  Who hath babbling?  Who hath wounds without cause?  Who hath redness of eyes?  They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.  Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it giveth his colour in the cup, when it moveth itself aright.  At the last it biteth like a serpent, and stingeth like an adder.”

Her father had a souvenir of the Prohibition Era of the 1920s, a sheet of paper posted in his workshop at the farm.  “Don’t succumb to the evil pleasures of Mr. Booze!” implored the headline near a cartoon of a bottle.  Why?  “It’s illegal.  It’s expensive.  It tastes terrible.  It burns when it goes down.  It gives you bad breath.  It makes you sick.  It makes you stupid.  In short, it’s foolish!”

No Cussing

My mother would have preferred “No Cursing” to the slang spelling.  My father explained that “cussing” referred to all expletives whether profane or obscene.  That pleased her well enough, though she herself didn’t stop there.

She would not tolerate the use of any of the four-letter words that, at the time, were banned from radio and television.  Neither would she tolerate any of the allegedly sanitized versions of those words.  That meant I was not allowed to say such words as “heck” and “darn”. 

“They refer to profane words,” she would say.  “They are derived from profane words.  They have the same profane meanings.” 

“And it is not right to make light of hellfire and damnation,” my father would say.  “You have no authority over either.  You should not wish either on any one or any thing of God’s creation.  Only He has the right and the might to do such cursing.”

“What about the Devil and his doings?” I asked.  “Can’t even he be cursed?”

My mother said, “Do as the Scripture records and say, ‘The Lord rebuke thee’.”

The same prohibition applied to such expressions as “gosh” and “golly” and even “by gar” as well as to “gee” and “gee whiz” and “jeepers”.

The mother of a friend of mine did not have the habit of cursing.  I did hear her often say instead, “God bless America!”  I asked my mother whether she thought that was all right.

“I don’t think so,” she answered.  “Not unless she’s praying.”  Then she asked me, “Kurt, what is the Second Commandment?”

“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” I recited.

“And what does vain mean?”

I thought about it.  “Stuck up.”

“Well, yes.  It does mean being possessed of a selfish and haughty pride.  The word means more than that, though, at least in old English.  Taking something in vain means to treat it as though it were empty, worthless, or futile.  Today’s meaning of vain comes from that older meaning.  A person who is vain is taking pride in someone who, apart from God, is worth less than dead grass cast into an oven, as the Scripture says. 

“But God is not worthless.  He is Creator and King of all Creation.  He is Light and Love and Life.  He is our Refuge, the fortress Rock of our salvation.  He is our Father; hallowed be His name. 

“One does not mention the name of God without all due consideration, without reverence and respect.  He is Light; one does not treat His name lightly.

“Words are important, son.  By saying the Word, God created all the heavens and the earth.  By sending the Word, God sent life and light.  We behold the Word’s glory, full of grace and truth.  We have been given the ability to speak and to hear words, to write and to read words.  The Word of God communicates essential grace and truth to us, and we can communicate via the Word to Him.  By the Word we communicate, we commune with God.  By the word we communicate, we commune with one another. 

“Words, therefore, should not be vain.  They should be full of grace and truth.  As Jesus said, ‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.  A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things.  An evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.  I say unto you that every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment’.”

My mother made sure I got that message by holding me to account for my idle words.  If something from my mouth made her expression turn sour, something sour would go into my mouth: vinegar.  Too this day, I cannot eat German potato salad without thinking of my mother and what she said to me.

My father said to me, “Well done, Kurt,” when I presented my new walnut rifle stock and foregrip.  He held both pieces in his hands as if he were inspecting them for the first time.  That wasn’t true, of course.  He had worked with me as I worked with them through every part of the process. 

One piece in each hand, he alternated hefting them.  He studied each piece from front to back and from side to side.  He nodded.  He tucked one piece under an arm so that he could run his hand along the other.  He nodded again.  “Yup,” he said.  “I reckon these’ll do just fine.  You can take ‘em over to Hank, and he’ll get ‘em together on the gun.”

“Oh,” I said.  “But Hank is gone fishing.  When I was over there this morning, he said he’d be gone all afternoon.  Don’t you think you can do it?”

He did.  And he did. 

 woodcraft 1


12 08 2014

A day of torpor in the sullen heat
Of Summer’s passion: In the sluggish stream
The panting cattle lave their lazy feet,
With drowsy eyes, and dream.

Long since the winds have died, and in the sky
There lives no cloud to hint of Nature’s grief;
The sun glares ever like an evil eye,
And withers flower and leaf.

Upon the gleaming harvest-field remote
The thresher lies deserted, like some old
Dismantled galleon that hangs afloat
Upon a sea of gold.

The yearning cry of some bewildered bird
Above an empty nest, and truant boys
Along the river’s shady margin heard –
A harmony of noise –

A melody of wrangling voices blent
With liquid laughter, and with rippling calls
Of piping lips and trilling echoes sent
To mimic waterfalls.

And through the hazy veil the atmosphere
Has draped about the gleaming face of Day,
The sifted glances of the sun appear
In splinterings of spray.

The dusty highway, like a cloud of dawn,
Trails o’er the hillside, and the passer-by,
A tired ghost in misty shroud, toils on
His journey to the sky.

And down across the valley’s drooping sweep,
Withdrawn to farthest limit of the glade,
The forest stands in silence, drinking deep
Its purple wine of shade.

The gossamer floats up on phantom wing;
The sailor-vision voyages the skies
And carries into chaos everything
That freights the weary eyes:

Till, throbbing on and on, the pulse of heat
Increases – reaches – passes fever’s height,
And Day sinks into slumber, cool and sweet,
Within the arms of Night.


James Whitcomb Riley

summer haze