Here is an old newspaper column I wrote after chaperoning a mission trip to New York with some lovely young men and women. Such sweet memories.
I’m feeling a bit like Dan Ulmer this week in as much as I kissed the ground at the Minneapolis airport after spending seven days in New York City, plus two days of travel time.
It was not a sightseeing trip, but I saw many sights. There were 23 youth, ages 14-18, from Charity Lutheran Church chaperoned by four adults on this particular journey to the inner city under the guidance of the New York School of Urban Ministry in Queens, New York.
It was the most awesome and the most grueling week I have ever spent away from home.
New York City has population of 8,104,079 in five boroughs – Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and Staten Island. I have been to each of them.
Our group traveled by subway for the most part. My neck was stiff from counting 23 heads over and over as we made our way around New York on the public transit system. It is not a new thing for these people. Rapid transit, consisting of above ground El (elevated) trains, began as early as 1829 transporting tourists to Coney Island in Brooklyn. At that time Coney Island was a popular resort destination. That wasn't the case for us.
It was Oct. 27, 1904, that the Inter borough Rapid Transit Subway, or IRT, became the first subway company in New York City. Even with elevated train lines springing up around the city, the need for an underground rapid transit railroad was obvious as a solution to street congestion in an ever growing city and also to assist development in outlying areas. With this new mode of underground transportation, the subway, New York would never be the same. The subway system in New York celebrates over 100 years of public transportation.
Living on the plains, we don't really fancy public transportation, but it’s a good thing in a way. For a week, I didn’t have to worry about gas or car maintenance, not to mention driving in New York’s very narrow streets. You see, not every place in the world has the wide-open country side like we do.
Our first day in the city began at Coney Island. Only those of us over the age of 40 had even heard of it before this trip. At the mention of the name, people wrinkle their noses, and ask “you didn’t go into the water, did you.” Not really. We did walk over the hot sand to the shore line, but we were there primarily to serve the soup and bread from a mobile kitchen to people barely surviving in this high-rent city.
It was hot in New York City, very hot, but the men, women and children were grateful, many asking for extra bread to take home. It could be the only food they had to eat that day.
During the course of the rest of the week...
I saw Ground Zero, and I saw people sleeping on the ground.
I saw the Statue of Liberty and I prayed for freedom from the things that tie people to this earth.
I saw Trump Tower, and I towered over broken people lying on the street.
I saw Phantom of the Opera and I saw what personal ghosts can do to people.
I saw trees growing out of the tops of skyscrapers and I saw teenagers grow up.
I saw Times Square, and witnessed the power of Pastor David Wilkinson preach at Times Square Church.
I saw the neon cross of St. Paul’s Mission, located in Manhattan’s west side, that reads “Get right with God.” This cross, in New York's 'Hell's Kitchen' district, appears in the opening credits of 1970s Saturday Night Live episodes. Another one of those trivial bits of information that gets lost on the younger than 40 crowd.
That group of youngsters had never been exposed to our particular type of upscale accommodations. We slept in an old hospital wing with no air conditioning. We ate cafeteria style and had to take turns with kitchen duty. We barely had time to sleep with NYSUM's mission schedule taking us out the door by 6:30 a.m. and sometimes not getting back until midnight.
Perhaps, it was this lack of rest that caused us all to feel like New York City rocked and swayed all the time. The subway trains rocked on the tracks. The sidewalks rocked with the subways running underneath. The churches rocked with the Holy Spirit.
There hasn't been time to digest it all.
I just remember being like 27 little white lights walking around in a city of diverse ethnic groups.
I am sure there are New Yorkers that will never forget we were there, and that we will never forget New York either.
Well, I did it. Promising myself the time to clean out my stuff, I began the daunting task of letting go. It started with the cards and letters from the late 1980s to the present. Tied together with red and white striped kitchen twine each year was stored in a box or the old suitcase in the basement.
Now, the suitcase itself has a story. It was part of a three-piece luggage set given to me by my boss, LaVonne. I worked at the Gackle Café in high school for .75 an hour. I remember a hamburger steak dinner with a bun, coffee, potato and salad, maybe even dessert for $1.25. Wow.
I'm still determining where the other two pieces are, but the one manageably-sized blue Samsonite suitcase survived one of my many purges over the years.
Now, on the advice of several people, I decided I could toss those bundled years of memories into the fire pit and watch them disappear. But I couldn't. I sat on the edge of one of the storage boxes and went through them. Not each envelope or card, but the ones that spoke to me. As I went along, I tore off the stamps because my friend Cynthia donates them to some charity. I wasn't going to do that either, but I caved.
Many of the cards from years past had handwritten notes or even letters. Some of the cards were handmade by my sister-in-law. Some messages were from my children and were so clever and creative I had to save a few for savoring later – then trying to throw them.
As I sorted through the cards, I found thank-you notes from church, school and other volunteer activities. I found letters and a few notes from people. I don't even recall their names or how I knew them. Somehow it was not as painful as I thought.
All I can say is things have changed. Today's Christmas cards have form letters or not letters, and people don't even use their signatures – just a nice scripty font to indicate who the card is from. The labels on the envelopes are also printed and not handwritten. That made me sad.
There were also photos in those bundles that I decided to save and put with the other images in another storage bin. Someday my children will be sorting through those prints and dropping them into the waste basket because they don't know the people or the places they are viewing.
It's taken me two days, and I'm still in the second box. The greatest of treasures found yesterday was a handpainted card. We are talking about 25 years of paper, friends, faces and love.
It was a birthday card from my Aunt Alice. It was beautiful, with a watermelon rose and a bud on the inside. The handwriting was legible and neat. I'm so glad I took the time to review those cards.
I also found notes from my mom written in her familiar script with misspelled words. I loved that about her letters. She took the initiative to finish high school in her later years but never used a dictionary. One of my favorites was "Tell the Kits hi from me."
In the end, I am still trying to figure out why I saved all these cards, except I love paper and pretty art and handwritten notes. I will keep a couple of the enormous cards for Putz Houses. I'm banking on some time to play around this winter. The garden is nearly at rest, the garlic is planted, and I'm going to tough out the cold and do two more farmer's markets. Then it's off to Christmas goodie time.
It's also time to think about what kind of Christmas card to create for my giving. I am not expecting handwritten Christmas cards this year, and I am not sure there will be notes in any of yours; however – I will sign my name, as I always do, and pray that my scrawling is still legible.
We were thinking my dad would make it to 100, maybe 107, like his great-uncle Jake. He didn’t. But, hey, 95 years is a long time to circle the sun. And, now, my father’s journey on earth ends and his eternal life with my mom begins.
I’m sure it was a happy reunion with his older brother, Art. It was when Art married my mom’s sister, Gertrude, that he met my mom. As they say, the rest is history.
I was fortunate enough to have spent a large part of Sunday with my Dad and brother, Curt. Dad passed on Monday around supper time. When I think of supper time, I can see him make that face where he sticks out his tongue and says, “I can’t taste anything, I don’t know why I eat.” But he does anyway. It is the German-Russian way.
So, today, two days before the funeral, I’m making food – buns, sloppy Joe’s and kuchen for the immediate family. I also have to think about the rest of my farmers markets and so there was Plum Crazy jelly and salsas to be canned.
My opinion of my dad growing up was his gruff discipline. Later, my relationship with my mother formed my opinion of my dad. But when my mom died, Aunt Arlene (mom’s youngest sister) said, “your mother dies first so you can get to know your dad.” She was absolutely correct.
In the eight years that passed between the two funerals, Curt cared for my dad in every way possible. Being 100 miles to the west, I tried to stop down there every time we drove by and this past year, stepped up a wee bit more to assist with his care. We sorted, we moved, we moved again, we went to the hospital during covid and argued with the staff to allow us to see him. I’m not going to sugar-coat this, “It was brutal.” My brother did for my dad what I cannot even imagine doing. So this is a shout-out to the guy who walked my parents through the toughest time of life.
Getting back to my dad, however, I found out about his childhood and was able to ask about a few gray areas in my brain. You know things you hear about when are young but don’t get the whole story ‘cause we were “kits.” That’s my mom speaking there.
Both parents and all my aunts and uncles spoke German growing up and it affect the way they spoke their whole lives. I missed out on that, much to my disappointment.
Dad was born in 1927, shortly before the “Dirty 30s.” According to North Dakota history websites, someone estimated that 70 percent of the population of the state required some form of assistance to make it through those years. Most of them left.
But not my relatives. Germans from Russia are a special breed for sure. Very few people outside my culture really “get” our love of work. We work when we are sad, we work when are happy, we work to show love, we work when we are angry. We just love to work. Okay, there are exceptions to the rule, but not my brother and me. We just love to work,or keep busy. We seek out knowledge about how things were done, how to make things, how to cook things. I guess we could be called preppers or recyclers to some degree.
And, now we are it. I’m sure there are many things I could have found out about my dad as he grew up and raised a family. It’s a little too late now. So, I have to cherish what I do know and thank God for the opportunity to spend the little time I did with him after Mom died. My last day with him was so good. He showed emotion. He asked about my family. He said he wished he would have given me his car (I’m shopping for one at the moment). He didn’t want me to leave. But it was getting late and I had to drive home alone. So, I rubbed his shoulders and said a little prayer to God – for peace. One way or another, peace as he recovered or peace as in his parting.
When Curt called about 5:30ish on Monday. I knew. I just knew he got his wish to go to heaven. I’m so very sad, empty and grateful at the same time.
Dad, until we meet again in heaven, I have to go back to work.
The season of weeding is coming to a close as the harvest begins. I had huge cucumbers hiding under the leaves that once were so little I thought maybe I should have planted another row to "Whoa, how are we going to pick them? There's no place to walk."
However, the weather has turned ugly hot, and it's been difficult to want to be outdoors in the heat and the humidity. These days my hair looks like dreadlocks as it curls and frizzes and cannot be combed.
So with the hot weather, the gremlins have arrived. First of all, there are grasshoppers galore in our garden. That might explain the snakes and toads I love seeing as I weed. Next, it's disease time for cucumbers, and we must be on guard for powdery mildew, especially with the high humidity.
The peas need picking; the beans need picking, the weeds need picking. Then there's my preemptive spraying of BT to keep the cabbage worms away from the last of my brassicas. And to top it all off, it's been one of those weeks.
For some reason, all my commitments to speak, travel, do grants and have farm tours ended up these two weeks of July. To begin last week, there was a gust of wind after a downpour at the market and my canopy frame bent. That's bad, but it could have been worse if my friend Maggie hadn't grabbed it before it took out my neighbor's tent. I do have a spare somewhere, but still. Okay, we repurposed the frame after a little pounding to make a tent for my gooseberries. There are tons of berries, and birds and deer love them as much as I do. The first year I planned to pick, I couldn't sleep waiting for morning. When morning came, I grabbed a bucket at the crack of dawn and found that the bushes had been cleared of all fruit overnight. I was devastated. I still don't know whether it was the birds or the deer.
I had to drive to Bottineau on Friday and Strasburg on Saturday for some presentations.
So, on Thursday evening, the freezer in the garage took a dive. I had to allow my fruit to thaw and keep that in the fridge. But, it meant that not to lose it, I would have to make jam, jelly and pie after coming back from out of town. On Friday at 4:45 a.m., we are trying to make room in the refrigerator's freezers to save the grass-fed beef and chickens.
On Monday, I'm still not done. The freezer we bought didn't work right away, and we are trying to figure out how you can spend $1,000 on a new freezer, and it doesn't freeze. So, we are still juggling food to save out investments.
Life's little mishaps have entirely thrown off this week's schedule. My dear friend Pat used to say, "Life is maintenance, man." I should count my blessings that we are still in good health, able to weed the garden and reap the benefits. Here's to some cooler weather and a good hair gel.
Here are a few of the cakes that Claire made. At one time we wanted to start a bakery together. I wish we would have taken that leap of faith.
Well, the cat's out of the bag. I'm going to be a grandmother again. It's the best news unless your new grandbaby is about 4.5 hours away because I love the smell of a newborn baby.
You are correct if I sound like I'm off on one of my philosophical ventures. One of my mother's sisters-in-law passed away, and I attended her funeral on Saturday. The prior Thursday, I drove to Jamestown to visit my dad on his 95th birthday. His hearing is gone, but he is in good health. Lonely because he's slowly becoming the last of two extensive families I call mine. We got him a new smartphone hoping he could at least have a fighting chance at hearing us when we call.
I've said this before. I thought I would have a large family forever. But I knew someday they would all be gone. Tucked inside my mom's family history book are funeral folders and a list with highlighted names. This week another name received its yellow swipe.
On a positive note, I spent some time with my cousins, Jan, Diane and Connie. Rather than drive straight to the New Kassel Cemetery for the burial, we took a "crop tour" of old farmsteads. Some are gone – some have changed hands – most I don't remember how to get to.
We drove by my grandparents' farm. That I remember. The tree row, the barns across the gravel driveway, I remember. The house is gone. The old grinding wheel for sharpening knives is gone. The garden is gone. But memories live on.
I didn't grow up in that area. My dad moved us to Fredonia and then to Gackle by the time I was 12 years old. I knew some of the names my cousins were remembering, most of them not. At one time, if you stood on top of a particular hill, you were surrounded by Meidinger farms, all relatives of mine.
Even though I knew all my relatives, perhaps better than my siblings, I didn't know them. My mom's family was skilled at crocheting, metal work, woodwork, farming, gardening, cooking, sewing, you name it, someone could do it. Every funeral gives glimpses into my aunts and uncles' lives outside of the gatherings we attended.
Now they are joining together to rest peacefully at the cemetery south on Zeeland road. That cemetery reads like a history of my mom's family. It saddened me to notice the fresh soil in the row that contains three of my mom's brothers (one of them is not there yet because it was his wife that passed last week) as the funerals are happening closer and closer together. The New Kassel Church t in 1905, incorporated in 1911, burned down in 1938, was rebuilt the same year, and then in 1979, merged with two other churches and became the UCC in Wishek. Everyone at those services was related to me -- men on the right side pews and women and children sitting on the left. I included directions in our history book so the younger generations could find it someday. Attending that church is one of my blessed memories.
We always discuss how the cousins should get together for a visit outside of funerals, but it isn't very easy. We live so far away from each other. And that wasn't always the case.
Before arriving at the cemetery, Jan turned to me and said, "I grew up with 46 cousins, all within 33 miles of me. That was because of you."
I laughed when I finally figured out she meant I messed up her proximity by living in Fredonia at the time. My dad didn't care to farm and moved us to what was commonly called "the hinterlands."
My friends, it hurts to realize that time waits for no one. So, to my family that has gone before me – until we meet again in heaven – I will remember you.
After my daughter was born three years earlier, I thought I could never love anyone as much as I loved her. I was wrong. Adam was a good baby. He was born on a Saturday night, June 29. We lived in a neighborhood of townhouses with 46 children under the age of 12. It was around 9 p.m. on a warm summer’s eve as we got into the car to go to the hospital with nearly all the families on our street sitting on their front steps waving us off.
Unlike my daughter, my son looked like me; his son looked like him. It’s almost uncanny, but he always says, “who would you think my son looks like, if not me?” Adam has a sense of humor. He’s also very frugal, as one would expect from someone Russian-German.
We traveled together when he was young, into middle school and midway through high school. He was the best of traveling companions sitting in the car for 8-10 hour stretches, helping carry canopies and boxes of woven clothes. He loved funnel cake. He helped other artists unload products or walk dogs to earn money for these sweet treats. His favorite road food was Subway sandwiches.
At home, we communicated with a notebook on the kitchen counter. As I was sorting through “stuff” in my basement trying to hygge my house, I found this page from one of those many notebooks. It was a grocery list.
Party Pizzas, pepperoni, please
We don’t need cheese
We have the ones in square.
You should get one pear.
We have good soda pop,
But we don’t have any lollipops.
We have good breakfast food.
Would it be rude
For me to ask for corned beef hash?
On your way home, don’t crash.
That’s it for today,
Be back right away…
In addition to being very careful with his money and writing poetry, he made up great words that I wish I had recorded for posterity’s sake.
Adam’s youthful claim to fame was his skateboarding. From the time he could walk, he skateboarded. People would stop as they drove by my house to watch this tyke cruising down the sidewalk. As he grew and developed skills, he partnered with a couple of friends and made videos of skateboarding. Mandan didn’t have a park then, so after being banned from many parking lots and stairways around town, the boys got together and petitioned the city commission and park board to build a skate park. While that may have been one of my proudest moments, watching some skating mishaps still gives me goosebumps.
So, as another year passes and I cannot think of a thing you need from me, I give you this. You are my son. I love you. You have grown into a responsible man with a family, and I couldn’t be prouder of your accomplishments. I miss our travels together, especially the history lesson trip following the Lewis and Clark trail west, visiting all those historic sites and camping along the Salmon River in the Sawtooth Mountain range the day before they closed the park for the annual salmon spawn. Here’s to your extraordinary life, my number one son.
It's weeding season at my house. Farmer's markets officially begin for me on Saturday, July 2. In the meantime, I'm trying to weed (about four hours every day I can) to give my plants the optimal opportunity to grow. Hopefully, the warmer temps will boost the tomatoes, peppers and squash.
Speaking of fathers, a robin father kept me company in the high tunnel on Monday, collecting bits of straw and string to build a nest. It's a little late, I think, but completely ignoring my presence, I watched the bird gathering a beak full of building material. It was pretty amazing.
Then I remembered Sunday, June 19, is Father's Day. Not everyone my age still has a father, but our family seems to have some longevity in its DNA. My dad also has a birthday at the end of the month – he will be 95.
So, according to information on the internet, Father's Day was the brainchild of Sonora Smart Dodd. Her father, a Civil War veteran, raised her, so she created a day for him. But the first official holiday was celebrated on June 19, 1910. It began as a religious holiday, as Dood thought of the idea during a Mother's Day sermon, but it became commercialized with gifts and cards. Not only are our fathers honored on that Sunday, but grandfathers, brothers, husbands, and any influential male in your life.
A couple of days later, at 4:14 a.m. Tuesday, June 21, the astronomical first day of summer begins. We have all been waiting for summer. This year's longest day is also known as Midsummer's Eve, a national holiday in Sweden and Finland.
If you observe the sunrise, it's amazing how the position changes over the year. In our area, the sun reaches its highest and northernmost points in the sky, summer in the northern half of the globe. On Tuesday, in our area, sunrise occurs at 5:47 a.m. and sets at 9:43 p.m., giving us nearly 16 hours of daylight, not counting Twilight.
For those who don't study the sky, there are three observable twilights – civil, nautical and astronomical. They each occur twice in 24 hours. Let's begin at night. When the sun sets and until it reaches six degrees below the horizon is Civil Twilight. Nautical Twilight begins where Civil Twilight ends. If you are a sailor, you will know that Nautical Twilight ends when the horizon and the sea are no longer distinguishable. Once Nautical Twilight began, sailors could navigate using the visible planets and stars. Astronomical Twilight starts when the sun reaches 12-degrees below the horizon through about 18-degrees. This is the time to begin star gazing. Hopefully, you can find some areas not polluted with light to observe these three twilights.
In the morning, the order of Twilight reverses as the sun approaches the horizon.
According to the Famers Almanac, Midsummer marks the midpoint of the growing season, halfway between planting and harvest. This is the time more commonly referred to by every gardener as "The Weeding Season." So while you are all dancing and feasting and celebrating Midsummer's Night Eve, gardeners will be taking advantage of the extended daylight to, you guessed it – weed.
Thankfully, from Tuesday forward, the days will become noticeably shorter. That means I might sleep past 5 a.m. because every good gardener "makes hay while the sun shines this time of year."
You see them everywhere these days. Fields of yellow blossoms waving in the sun and warmth of coming summer. The word must be out. Summer's coming. More and more people are allowing at least one crop of dandelions to gracefully age into white-headed ladies before casting their future into the air and dying. Do bees need dandelions? Maybe not.
My husband quit spraying the driveway to kill off the unwanted "weeds" a few years back. He stopped spraying because he read that the bees needed the dandelions. And we need the bees. That made me very happy. As you know, I'm always sticking things in my mouth while working outdoors, and now everything has been chemical-free for at least four years.
If you do more research online, you will find that dandelions are not necessarily a first-choice bee food. The pollen in dandelions is not sufficient for the bees. However, they rely on dandelions as filler food if pollen from fruit trees and flower beds is insufficient in early May. They are also very abundant if allowed to seed out every year.
Dandelions are a common member of the sunflower family, and there are about 100 species. Like sunflowers, you may have noticed dandelions open with the sun and close overnight to sleep. The serrated leaves reminded someone of a lion, hence the French name "dent de lion" or lion's tooth.
Dandelions are survivors and spread like wildfire. They do not need insects to pollinate for seeds to survive, even though insects and bees hop from one to the other consuming nectar or seed.
Because I love folklore and such, a dandelion represents three celestial bodies. The flower represents the sun, the puff ball resembles the moon, and the seeds floating away on a summer breeze (in North Dakota, anything under 60-miles per hour is considered a breeze) represent the stars in the sky.
But, never mind the bees, there are many reasons not to kill off the dandelions. In many cultures, the herb dandelion was more valued than a green lawn.
First off, if you have small children, dandelions are usually the first "flower" a mother receives. What could be more joyful than watching a child's fascination with dandelions?
As my summer reading program, I purchase "old" novels from Abe Books like Foundation, The Invisible Man and Fahrenheit 451. When Fahrenheit's main character, Montag, meets Clarisse, she rubs a dandelion under his chin. She explains that if the pollen rubs off, he is in love. He is married, but no pollen would indicate he is not in love with his wife or anything in this dystopian novel by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury.
All three parts of the dandelion are useful and edible. The leaves can be eaten when young as bitter greens in salads or frittatas. The leaves make good tea, and the root can be dried and ground and used as a coffee substitute. Green leaves can be mixed with basil and made into pesto with a healthy kick.
Like squash, the blossoms can be dipped in egg white and fried or taken off the bitter pod and sprinkled over salad. I have yet to try this, but I harvest dandelions to make soap or dying organic cotton fabric. The color of the dandelion leaf is a beautiful green. Dandelion-infused soap or balm soothes irritated skin.
I'm planning on drying some root this year because someone told me it smells like chocolate. And, who doesn't like chocolate? When harvesting roots, you will see earthworms gather around dandelion roots, for it is a natural humus producer. Humus is soil with an ecosystem and a goal for people who grow.
While we wait for the gardens, patiently, I might add with these recent cold temperatures, try a few dandelion experiments and let me know what you think.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.
I now return to my two loves market gardening and weaving.