Chuck’s House Party

Last week, I read in the Vail Observer that Rev. Victor Rehmaeker died at the age of 85.  I have a couple of memorable moments that involve both my mother and Father Rehmaeker (RAY-maker).

The last incident first.  When my half-brother Bobby Wulf died, mom made funeral arrangements with the assistance of the Pfannebeker Funeral Home in Denison, Iowa.  One of the decisions my mom made, which was unwavering, was that Susan Rosener would sing.  Sue has a great voice, and mom wanted this occasion to be special by hearing one of the greatest local vocalists.

Father Rehmaeker was the parish priest at St. Ann’s Church in Vail, Iowa.  When it was time for a hymn, Sue began singing, and so did Father Rehmaeker.  The only difference was that Father Rehmaeker was wearing a mic and his voice was drowning out Sue’s.  I am in the front pew with mom and she’s grabbing a hold of me, shaking me, and saying: “Make him stop, Marty!  He’s singing!  I don’t want him singing!  Please, Marty, make him stop!”  I suppose I could have made the six o’clock news, but I had no idea what to do to make him stop.

I realized that he heard mom’s pleas when he began the eulogy.  He explained that the Pope, or the bishop, or some other head of church, had written that everyone should sing and praise God jointly; that singing should not be a presentation.  It went in one ear of mom’s head and out the other.  Can you blame her?  She did not like Father Rehmaeker.

I tried to explain to her earlier in life that he wasn’t to be trusted.  When I was in high school at Kuemper in Carroll (1964-1968), Father Rehmaeker was the principal.  It was the policy of the school that the crime of skipping school required the student’s parents to come to the school and have a powwow with the principal, the student and the parents to allow the student to be re-admitted.  I was caught skipping school, so mom came with me for the inquisition.  My step-father was not considered to be a parent.

Mom and I are sitting on folding chairs in Room 207 – Rehmaeker’s office.  Father picks up a manilla folder off his desk and opens it.  He reaches in and pulls out a slip of paper.  He hands it to mom and says: “Mrs. Wulf, do you recognize this handwriting?”  Mom said, “yes, that is my handwriting.”  “Well, then,” Father Rehmaeker pumped his chest and pulled out the remaining stack of papers and asked, “whose handwriting is this?”  “Oh,” mom said, “that’s Carol’s handwriting.”  Carol, my innocent sister, was a year ahead of me at Kuemper.  Thanks, Mom!  Carol didn’t write all those excuses.  It was easier to forge her handwriting than that of my mom.  Carol never got in trouble for it.  I received another 3-day suspension.  I never did understand why they suspend a student for the student’s self-suspension.

I was reminded of one of those skipping moments when Chuck North sent me a friend request on Facebook.

One gray, cold winter day, several of us boys in Vail decided to skip school.  We all met at Chuck’s house.  Of course, it wasn’t his house; it belonged to his parents, Earl and Mary North.  We were having a blast, doing what is questionable, but I don’t think we were drinking, smoking or doing drugs.  That’s a plus, I suppose.

Close to midday, someone yelled, “Earl just pulled up outside.”  There must have been at least eight of us.  I remember Jim Devold, Chuck North, Ron McCoid, Laird Vergith, Jim Malloy, and possibly Russ McCoid and another Malloy, along with me all being there.  We all ran upstairs and hid in the master bedroom closet.  Bodies on bodies.

We heard Earl come in and prepare a lunch.  We tried not to move, but what are you going to do when you have that many male adolescents packed into a tiny space.  Then, the inevitable occurred.  Someone farted.  It wasn’t the silent kind, nor was it the fragrance of roses.  It was suffocating to say the least.  I just knew we would be caught by Earl.  A few began whispering.  They might just as well have talked aloud.  We were not quiet by any means.  The decibel level had to have floated down to the main floor, but Earl finished up his meal and headed out.

I wonder what he thought.  I wonder whose excuse I used for that day.  I’ll bet it was in that batch of excuses with my mom’s signature on it, with Carol’s handwriting, possibly forged by me.

Rest in peace, Father Rehmaeker.  After dealing with me and mom, you deserve it.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Tipsy Pine

I was talking to my sister on the phone Easter Monday, and for some reason, the Tipsy Pine came up in conversation.  Good God, what a dive!

We laughed and laughed at each other’s stories about that place.  The bar was on the east end of Denison.  I doubt it’s still there, and as a matter-of-fact, I know it has to be gone because at one time I lived a block away.  During that period in my life, if there was a bar within walking distance, I was in it.  Cockroaches eating it to the ground, a leaky roof caused from shotgun blasts, or maybe the broken windows in restrooms, led to the bar’s final demise.

Pat told me about throwing a beer in the face of someone there.  “Probably had too many beers,” she told me.  That was a given.  No one went into that particular bar unless they had far too many beers to begin with.  Nonetheless, in defense of my eldest sister, the recipient must have deserved it.  We agreed on that.

My story, based solely on my sometimes-faulty memory, is a bit more extensive.  I was under age, as were most people in there on a late winter or early spring Saturday night.  There was a local band playing that night.  They sucked, but what the hell, it was live music and the place was crowded and loud.  The bar had two doors, one on the south side facing Highway 30, and a back entrance to the north.  We parked in the parking lot in the back, facing the street so that we could roll right out if necessary.  It became necessary.

While the music was getting louder and the crowd was getting denser and drunker, someone broke a beer bottle against the bar.  A fight was about to erupt.  The bartender took a shotgun from behind the bar and fired a warning shot into the ceiling.  Well, you know what’s going to happen after that.  The police were called.  Things didn’t get much quieter until the police actually arrived.

People were running to the two exits to get out of the bar.  Being from Vail, John Devold (who was old enough to be in the bar but rode with me), Mike Ruch – also a minor, and I ran to the women’s restroom.  You don’t go running into the arms of police when they show up.  We must have used Plan B more than we ever thought of using Plan A.  We broke the window because it was stuck, and one of us went outside (it wasn’t me).  We began to help dozens of minor women out the window.  The last one was a hefty girl who almost got stuck in the window, and here I am, inside the women’s restroom, underage, and with a large woman stuck halfway through the window.  I locked the door.  We could hear the cops in the bar and at the two entrances.  Pushing and pulling, we finally got the woman through the window.  The two of us remaining, kept the bathroom door locked as we got through the window with no time to spare.

Outside the bar, by the window, the heavy woman was bleeding.  She cut her finger on the broken glass lying in the grass.  It was a superficial wound, but you wouldn’t have known it from her whining.  That’s when she tells us that she needed a ride home.

We crossed the street and waited for things to calm down.  We snuck up the other side of the street behind houses and came out of the darkness a block north.  The four of us strolled down the street as though we had been out for a pleasant walk on such a beautiful starry night.  I’m sure we fooled the police.

We piled into the Green Latrine and I slowly coasted it out of the parking lot.  It was a 3-speed manual transmission, but the 1st, 3rd, and reverse gears didn’t work.  Second gear was the only gear that worked in that wonderful car.  I did have overdrive, so I could get up to 50 or 60 mph in second gear without hearing the engine work hard.

I was driving and Mike was in the front passenger seat.  John and the woman were in the back, John directly behind me and the woman sitting behind Mike.  She lived on a farm with her parents between Denison and Vail, so we took the gravel back roads home.

Her parent’s farmstead was at the bottom of two very steep hills.  It was also on the vehicle’s right side, the side in which she was sitting.  When we were coming over the crest of the first hill, I told her that because the car had only second gear, I might not make it up the other hill if I have to stop, “so I’ll slow down so that you get out while we’re barely moving.”  BOOM!  The door opened and she jumped out.  “Not now!”  I yelled.  Too late.  John could see her rolling in the ditch.

John or Mike – maybe both – yelled for me to stop.  “I will at the top of the hill,” I assured them.  However, if I had stopped at the bottom or anywhere on the way up the next hill, we were going to have to spend the night between those two hills.

We did make it to the top of the next hill and I shut off the car.  Someone yelled down to her: “Are you all right?”  “Yes,” she answered.  We found out later that she made a perfect stunt woman roll into the ditch and wasn’t even stiff the following day.  I guess her finger was okay, as well.

We continued on the way back to Vail, and at some point, in the next few minutes, the story of The Green Latrine was born.

If you haven’t read my first blog in this 3-year series, this is a good time to read it, or refresh your memory if you have read it.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Vail Independent Basketball Tournament

The Vail Independent Basketball Tournament was a cornerstone of our youth in Vail, Iowa; a waymark in the passage of every year, for every kid growing up in Vail.  The Tourney was sponsored each January by the Knights of Columbus, and it was extremely popular in the region.

Growing up in the late 1950s and across the 1960s, the Tourney was simply a big deal, and in Vail, there were not a lot of big deals.  For us kids, it really came down to the Pony Show in July and the Tourney in late January.  That was pretty much it for big deals, the sort of events that would have out-of-town cars parked for blocks surrounding the main street where the Memorial Hall anchored one corner and the baseball field the other.  In my memory, not too many other events routinely packed our little town of 450 souls.

The Tourney was a money-maker for the Knights and the town.  Before the games, during the games, and after the games the taverns were packed, and the food available at the tournament location sold out.  The Tourney’s location was the Vail Memorial Hall, which had been a Work Progress Administration construction project during the Great Depression.  The Tourney started shortly after it was built, more than likely the brainchild of our parish priest, Fr. Denis Clark.  Father Clark loved sports, and had been a Golden Gloves boxer in his youth (he was a personal friend of Joe Lewis, and brought him to the parish school one day).  He especially loved basketball.  The Catholic High School, which folded up its tent in 1960, when graduating classes were lucky to have a dozen students, fielded more than one championship contender.  My oldest brother Jerry played for St. Ann’s, and went on to play for Creighton University and their legendary coach Red McManus.

The Tourney was not about high school or college basketball.  It was about town teams, bar teams, and a few Catholic parish teams from across western Iowa and eastern Nebraska.  The teams were made up of young adult men, and a few not as young.  The games were hard fought, and played in front of a packed house.

The venue was not the best, but the best we knew.  The Memorial Hall’s basketball floor was 6 feet short of full-sized, but a line three-feet from the middle line marked the over-and-back for a violation.  Also, there was maybe 3 feet between the out-of-bound line on either end and the solid brick wall.  A large mattress hanging on the wall was the only protection for a player who flew through a good layup or got slammed off the court.  Some games indeed had a level of body checks a good hockey player would admire.  It was loud!  The crowd was on top of the game in bleachers on the stage on the south side, and bleachers on the north floor side with a balcony above.  The Memorial Hall was brick, but the interior was filled with wood, the backboard steel, and that place rocked!

My dad, like Marty’s, had died too young.  A volunteer fireman who died in an accident on the way to a fire.  He had been a Grand Knight in the local Knights of Columbus, so his peers always took care of me when it came to the Tourney.  When I was young, in my earliest days of Tourney attendance, one of the Knights would make sure my mom and I had a “season ticket.” Later in my youth, I had to work for that pass helping clean up after the day, making popcorn, or the prime job…dust mopping the basketball court between quarters, after the game, and toweling up after a fall.  It meant a lot, and spared me from sneaking in through a back door opened by a fellow Vail boy…right Marty!

The teams came from all over, many from small towns nearby, but always a team or two out of Omaha, Sioux City, Ames, and Des Moines.  My favorite was a team out of Omaha, which for many years included the All-Star Pitcher, Bob Gibson.  To imagine a future hall-of-famer, and World Series Champion, playing basketball in Vail, Iowa, for a local team, is sort of amazing in this current era of multi-million-dollar professional contracts.  I imagine today, those contracts specifically forbid such amateur sport participation. Heck, they may have in the early to mid-1960s, but Bob Gibson played basketball in little old Vail, Iowa.  I was a big fan of the Cards, and would get his autograph on the Tourney program, a spare baseball, etc.  I know other kids did too, and I wonder if any survive.  Being a poor kid, I know for a fact I turned around and played baseball with that very same autographed ball!  Who knew?

The Memorial Hall was transformed into a hub of action, and I was in the center of it.  The games brought new faces and a level of excitement to town, something that wasn’t in ample supply most days.  While those teams were mostly composed of local players from the sponsoring town, business, or parish, they always brought a ringer or two.  Bob Gibson wasn’t the only real athlete to grace those floors, and it wasn’t only Omaha teams that knew how to stretch their talent pool.  I remember the year my brother came home from Creighton and brought his teammate Paul Silas, a future NBA great, to play for the St. Ann’s Parish Team.  They were freshman at the time, and drove up from Omaha to play in the game, feed up on home cooked meals at my mom’s, and then back to Omaha so they didn’t miss practice.  St. Ann’s won that year, but Jerry and Paul couldn’t play in the final game because they got caught by their coach, Red McManus.  St. Ann’s still won.

Another lasting memory from Tourney time was of our local perv.  I won’t name him, even though he’s dead now, but suffice it to say only in Vail would the City Council hire the guy as the town cop.  My big brothers warned me to stay away from him before I even hit Kindergarten.  My memory of him is how he volunteered (or maybe the KofC’s hired him) to mop the shower area.  I swear to God almighty this is true.  There he’d be after every game, busily mopping up the wet concrete floors, with a white-knuckle grip on the mop handle and lust in his eyes.  Crazy yes, but also so very Vail.

The tourney endured as an annual event from the 1940’s (at least) through the early 1970s.  I was too young to transition from spectator to player, but Marty did, as did other Vail boys.  A true MVP of the Tourney for several years was Larry Seibert, of Vail, he was not tall but an exceptional offensive shooting guard.  Larry had game!  Like other things the Tourney sort of slipped away, just like the Pony Show and many locally-owned businesses.  I suppose it was all part of the changing rural American landscape…but that’s a topic for another time.  The Tourney was a major happening in a small town with very few.  It was great sport, great fun, and something that brought people together.

Posted in Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Midnight Saving Time

The town of Vail, Iowa, has a population of fewer than 500 residents.  Nonetheless, it has a swimming pool.  It’s not a publicly-owned government pool, but a community pool ran by community activists and volunteers which has been in existence for over 50 years.

In the 1960s, kids in town were getting bored and getting out of hand.  Many of us were hitchhiking to Denison to swim in its public swimming pool.  Or, we would sit downtown with swimming trunks and a towel and ask a person we knew, like Tracy North, if they were going to Denison, could we catch a ride.  We never thought about how we would get home.  The other alternative was to walk through a corn field and a pasture to get to Tracy’s Pond about a half-mile southwest of town.  It was probably more dangerous.  We would skinny dip in the pond while the cattle watched us upstream.  There was a huge raft (about 30’ x 15’) dry-docked on one of the banks.  We would dive in among the rusting fish hooks and protruding nails on the raft, thinking nothing of the consequences.  But it cooled us off.

Grace Lindberg, a local restaurant owner, owned a piece of property on the main block of town.  The fire station and the American Legion Club were across the alley.  Grace said that kids needed something to occupy their time, safely.  An old dilapidated house sat on some property Grace owned. She donated the land to begin a movement that has continued since.

The house was torn down, and the Vail Community Swimming Pool Association became a legal entity.  Grace was its first president.

A contractor from Harlan, Iowa, was selected to build the pool.  Supposedly, it was a company that had built similar pools in the Midwest.  The sloping hole was dug and concrete block was used to build the walls.  Sand was layered on the bottom, and a huge plastic liner was placed into the hole, covering the sand and the concrete block.  Ten-foot square sections of cement were poured along the outside edges of the pool, a chain link fence surrounded the pool, and a small building was erected to house the pumps, cleaning supplies, restrooms, etc.

While the contractors were building the pool, many Vail children hung out and watched.  There wasn’t much else to do.  We talked with the workers, most of whom were in their early twenties.  During construction, the workers asked us if we wanted to travel to Harlan in a school bus and swim in the owner’s pool.  It would be identical to what we would have when finished.  After swimming in the owner’s pool, we would be bused out to a farm, have a bon fire, hotdogs, marshmallows, and sleep in the hay loft of the barn before returning home the following morning.  We would need to have our parents’ permission.

Just about every boy that hung around the pool, and a few more, brought a permission slip over the next few days.  Finally, the day came when the workers finished up the activity at the pool site and we all got on the bus for what we were sure was going to be the best night of our summer.

On the drive to Harlan, we were loud, rambunctious, and annoying teens and pre-teens.  The first stop was to the owners’ house, where he had a pool in his backyard, fenced off with a wooden privacy fence.  We swam, we dived off the diving board, we threw beach balls and other pool-related toys, we had one hell of a good time.

As the sun was going down, we were back on the bus heading to a farmstead.  The farm was beautiful, manicured lawn and everything colorful was in its place.  The workers started a huge bon fire, as promised.  Waiting for the fire to get going, we placed our bedding in a spot in the hay loft where we intended to sleep, and we searched for and used long skinny branches to cook our hot dogs, and later, to roast our marshmallows.  There were plenty of condiments for the hot dogs, and chocolate squares and graham crackers for the marshmallows.  We ate until we could barely move.

Then, one of the guys pulled out a guitar and asked if we wanted to sing.  Knowing most of the kids there, I doubt anyone yelled, “hell, yeah!”  But there we were, singing Kumbaya and other religious-oriented songs.  Actually, I think the only persons singing were the construction workers.

The strangest thing occurred next.  They split us into groups and selected which kids would go with each individual worker.  The groups would go off to a remote place not far from the bon fire.  The ratio was 3-4 boys with one counselor.  Except for me and Honcho.  These guys were calculating.  They knew who would give them the most trouble, me and Honcho.  Honcho was two years older than me.  I may have been the second oldest of the troop.  We didn’t have one ‘camp counselor,’ we had two.

They talked to us about Jesus and asked if we had ever been saved.  I think every kid said, “I don’t know.”  So, they commenced to talk to us about saving our souls and why it was important.  These boys they recruited to have a fun night of swimming and eating were mostly little Catholic boys, most of whom were altar boys, and a few Presbyterian Sunday School students.  This religious recruitment process was not on the public agenda prior to the trip or our parents would not have signed permission slips.

I was afraid that Honcho would get pissed and tear into them.  Honcho, who was quick and muscular, would rather fight his way out of a garment bag than pull the zipper down to get out.  He watched my every move and mimicked what I said and did.  “Any questions?”  They asked.  I knew that if I had a question, we would be there all night.  I also gathered that the longer Honcho sat on the log with me more likely he was going to erupt.  “No, I think I’m saved.”  I spoke.  Honcho quickly caught on.  “Me, too!”

We were about to get up and move on when the one I suspected to be the leader said, “I remember when I was saved, I said a prayer.”  I looked at Honcho.  His eyes were beginning to get bigger.  “Yeah,” I replied.  “Good idea.”  I sat back down and yanked at Honcho’s jeans.  He sat next to me.  He could see that I folded my hands and placed them on my chest while bowing my head.  He followed perfectly.  After about a minute, I raised my head (yes, Honcho did immediately and in sync with me).  “Do you feel it?”  Or some question like that, the older one asked.  “Yes!”  I said jubilantly.  “Yup,” Honcho meekly replied.    There was a little small talk and Honcho and I walked to the barn.

“Hey, M.T.” Honcho got my attention as we were walking across the farmyard.  “Did you really pray?”

“Oh, yes I did.”  I looked at Honcho.  “I said ‘God get us out of here.’”  Honcho busted out laughing.

Once again, in the loft, we were obnoxious kids.

The following morning, we were given something for breakfast.  I don’t know what.  It didn’t make any difference.  All of us were more than willing and ready to go.

The bus ride home was a somber event.

I don’t remember that any of us shared the event with anyone else.  I can’t believe that we did because the contractors scheduled another event for those kids who couldn’t make it the first time.  None of the original group signed up for the second trip.

I want to say that Jim Malloy and I were the first two in the pool.  On the first day of the pool being filled to the top, at 11:00 pm after the bars had closed and the town was quiet, Jim and I went over the fences and dived in.  However, that honor of being first has to go to a man who lived out west of town a few miles.  His last name was Stone.  He climbed the fence, just as Jim and I did, after coming out of the American Legion Club, predictably drunk, and became the first.  There wasn’t much water in the pool at that time.  Jim and I had the privilege of diving in when it was full.  We didn’t stay long.  It was as cold as the Arctic Ocean.

This essay is not intended to make fun of anyone’s religion, I am just writing what I experienced with about 15-20 other boys in the early to mid-1960s.

EPILOGUE:  The Vail Community Swimming Pool Association filed for dissolution in May of 2020.  It was more than the Pandemic that closed it down.  It takes a lot of money, work and effort to run a nonprofit that owns a swimming pool.  To all those families that supported Grace, thank you!  To all the women, and a few men, who served on the Board of Directors, thank you!  And to the late Grace Lindberg, you’ll never know how much children in Vail are indebted to your vision and goodwill.

I don’t think any Vail kid was saved that night in the summer of 1964.

Mr. Stone was tragically killed when his gun went off accidentally while he climbed over a fence.

The Vail Swimming Pool did not keep kids in Vail from getting into trouble, but it sure did slow them down.

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Censorship Sucks!

When I first heard about a possible censorship of Dr. Seuss books, like so many others, I said: “What?”  My eighteen years of working at the American Civil Liberties Union gave me experience to ask, “who is the censor?”  Not that censorship is okay under any condition, but usually, the censor is a third party that finds something objectionable to their own beliefs and attempts to stop the artist, author, or distributor from allowing the objectionable material to be read or seen by others.

Facebook was abuzz with people saying that this censorship was cancel-culture and that they would continue to read Dr. Seuss books, even the ones that have been banned.  The words “cancel-culture” caught my eye.

First of all, the books are not banned; they will no longer be published.  That’s a big difference.  Second, the decision was made by Dr. Seuss Enterprises, the licensing entity holding rights of publishing for all of his books.  It’s not a third party claiming that the books are offensive; it’s the heirs.

I never read Dr. Seuss books as a child, and I don’t remember an adult reading them to me, either.  Perhaps I was too young to remember, but knowing my family, I’m sticking to the former.  Even in adulthood, I thought these books probably originated in 1950 or later.

Two of the books that have been discontinued are the first Dr. Seuss book, “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” published in 1937; and “If I Ran the Zoo,” which was published in 1950.  These books have been around for quite some time.  Many Dr. Seuss books were written in the 1950s.

Do you remember reading “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street?”  If that book is still in a bookcase at home, you had better hold on to it.  It is selling for $350 on Amazon.  “If I Ran the Zoo” goes anywhere from $499 to $799.99.  “Green Eggs & Ham,” and “The Cat in the Hat” are still popular books, and they will continue to be printed.

Dr. Seuss, whose real name is Theodor Seuss Geisel, was a political cartoonist for a New York newspaper in the early 1940s.  He admitted to using “harmful stereotypes to caricature Japanese and Japanese-Americans.  Decades later, he said he was embarrassed by the cartoons, which he said were ‘full of snap judgments that every political cartoonist has to make.’”

Based upon his reconciliation regarding those political cartoons, it doesn’t surprise me that his foundation would proceed with the discontinuation of some of his books.  Dr. Seuss was a kind man who didn’t want to offend anyone.  If he were alive today, he may agree with this decision.

I have to agree that this matter borders on censorship.  However, it’s not the type of censorship that we usually see.  No one has pulled these books from the bookshelves; they will no longer be printed.  They’ll still be available to read; you just have to find them in order to read them.  Censorship is “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.”

The foundation’s decision to halt the printing of these books does not fall under the definition of “suppression or prohibition.”  There is no movement to prevent anyone from reading these discontinued books.

But is it cancel-culture?  “The Cat’s Quizzer,” one of the discontinued books, “hasn’t sold in years through the retailers BookScan tracks.”  It seems like this move by Dr. Seuss Enterprises is a financial decision in many ways.  “Cancel culture (or call-out culture) is a modern form of censorship in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles – whether it be online, on social media, or in person.”  This decision doesn’t even come close to the newfound definition of cancel-culture.

In the 1970s, I read a book to my daughters that all three of us enjoyed immensely.  “It Could Be Worse” was written by Margot Zemuch.  It was a story of a married man named Ivan who was upset that the house smelled of cooking, the children were screaming, etc.  He went to the Rabbi who told him to bring the chickens into the house.  When that didn’t work, he was told to bring in the dog and the cat into the house; next the goats.  This went on with the cow and the horse.  Finally, poor Ivan couldn’t take it anymore.  The Rabbi told him to take all the animals out of the house, sweep and clean it, and come back when everything was done.  Ivan was happy and smelled the sweetness of dinner cooking and the thrill of the children’s laughter.  Ivan brought the Rabbi wine and bread as a token of appreciation.  The moral, of course, was in the title of the book.  Things can be worse.

In the 1990s, I went looking for that book to read to a different child.  I couldn’t find the same book, but I found a book by Margot Zemuch called “It Could Always Be Worse.”  It was the same story with some changes.  The Rabbi was now a wise man, the token gifts at the end of the story did not have wine, and word ‘always’ was added to the title.  There may have been some other changes, but the point is that the moral of story remained the same.  Yes, words were adapted to make the story more politically correct.  But if you hadn’t read the first edition you would never had known that it was revised to be acceptable to a wider audience.

Public outcry may prompt Dr. Seuss Enterprises to allow Random House to print these books with modest changes.  It’s sort of like “The New Coke.”  It won’t be the same as the old books, but after time, we’ll realize that the story is the same.  Change is inevitable.  It just doesn’t happen as fast as it did in “Dirty Dancing.” [In this movie, the 1960s changed into the 1970s overnight.]

Go ahead and add these six books to the list of others that have been censored at one time or another: Catcher in the Rye (I had to read this book twice to figure out why it was banned); Huckleberry Finn; just about any book by Judy Blume; Fahrenheit 541; The Bible; Gone With the Wind; and Mein Kampf, just to name a few.  And these books have not been censored nor discontinued by the authors or their heirs.

I can’t quite reach the level of saying this is censorship, but if you own one of these six books, hang on to it.  It just became worth a whole lot more.

Censorship sucks!  However, it also sells books.

Posted in Youth | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wishing you enough

We celebrated Stephanie’s birthday last August in quaint, humble style.  I bought her a cake, but instead of the usual “Happy Birthday” greeting, the top of the cake was decorated with “Wishing you enough.”

We’ll be married for 16 years this coming October, but we’ve been together for over seventeen years.  We became acquaintances working on a legislative project [felon voting rights] back in 2004.

In November of 2003, Stephanie had called me to ask if I would be the speaker for the Annual December Luncheon of the Metro Des Moines League of Women Voters.  I wasn’t in the office that day, and a note was left for me to call her back.  My office has never been a neatly organized area of work.  Below is a link to a photo of Einstein’s desk on the day after he died. He was much neater than me.

Einstein’s desk

By the time I found the note and got back to Stephanie, she had already found someone else to speak – Brian Gentry, Governor Vilsack’s legal counsel.  She thought it was cute that I returned the call (too late).  I informed her: “well, I am going to attend because I would like to hear what Mr. Gentry has to say about this issue.”

I showed up with my colleague and “good trouble-in-arms-comrade” Rev. Carlos Jayne.  Both of us joined the League of Women Voters that afternoon in the Tea Room at Younkers in downtown Des Moines.  It was the first time I had seen Stephanie, and my impression was that she was some banker, lawyer, or doctor’s wife with nothing else to do in life.  But she was pretty and intellectually charming.  She thought I was gay.  I worked for the ACLU, had an earring, long hair and wasn’t married.  Fair enough.  We were both a ‘little’ wrong.  She was still pretty and intellectually charming, and I was unmarried with long hair and an earring.

It was a few months later, after we kept showing up at the same meetings that we began to know a little more about each other.  The late Judie Hoffman, former lobbyist for the Iowa League of Women Voters, invited me to speak at the ILWV annual Issues Briefing on the subject of legislation that would allow ex-felons to vote.  Stephanie and I talked for a while after the meeting on the same issue.  She was passionate about this matter.  I began to get passionate about her.

It wasn’t long after that Issues Briefing meeting that I took a chance and emailed her, asking her to dinner.  Yes, brave, was I not?  She responded by telling me that she could offer only a sporadic friendship.  I accepted that offer.  We became friends.

We had a few dates that Stephanie said were not really dates, they were outings, or something like that.  I considered them to be, well, dates.  We enjoyed road trips, visits to the Des Moines Art Center, and food.  We are both foodies.  Our favorite road trip was traveling to Elk Horn for the greatest buffet.  Unfortunately, that restaurant closed.

After a few months, I shared the following email with her:

My sister sent this to me.  I think it’s beautiful.  Stephanie, “I wish you enough!”

At an airport I overheard a father and daughter in their last moments together. They had announced her plane’s departure and standing near the door, he said to his daughter, “I love you; I wish you enough”. She said, “Daddy, our life together has been more than enough. Your love is all I ever needed. I wish you enough, too, Daddy.” They kissed good-bye and she left. He walked over toward the window where I was seated. Standing there I could see he wanted and needed to cry. I tried not to intrude on his privacy, but he welcomed me in by asking, “Did you ever say good-bye to someone knowing it would be forever?” “Yes, I have,” I replied. Saying that brought back memories I had of expressing my love and appreciation for all my Dad had done for me. Recognizing that his days were limited, I took the time to tell him face to face how much he meant to me. So, I knew what this man was experiencing. “Forgive me for asking, but why is this a forever good-bye?” I asked. “I am old and she lives much too far away. I have challenges ahead and the reality is, her next trip back will be for my funeral,” he said. “When you were saying good-bye, I heard you say, ‘I wish you enough.’ May I ask what that means?” He began to smile. “That’s a wish that has been handed down from other generations. My parents used to say it to everyone.” He paused for a moment and looking up as if trying to remember it in detail, he smiled even more. “When we said ‘I wish you enough,’ we were wanting the other person to have a life filled with enough good things to sustain them,” he continued and then turning toward me, he shared the following as if he were reciting it from memory. “I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright. I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more. I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive. I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger. I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting. I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess. I wish enough “Hello’s” to get you through the final “Good-bye.” He then began to sob and walked away. My friends and loved ones, I wish you ENOUGH!!! They say, “It takes a minute to find a special person, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but then an entire life to forget them.” Send this phrase to the people you’ll never forget and also remember to send it to the person who sent it to you. It’s a short message to let them know that you’ll never forget them. If you don’t send it to anyone, it means you’re in a hurry and that you’ve forgotten your friends. Take the time to live!  Take care.

It wasn’t long after we kept wishing each other enough that we began declaring our love for each other.

Although I love Stephanie to pieces, and tell her so every day, I will always wish her enough!

Posted in General | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment