Muscles and dreams

His spray tan hasn’t worn off yet. The competition was this past week.

I watched him strike poses and stand for pictures with his trophy all afternoon.  He looked to be in his early twenties, but it’s hard to tell with body builders. These are the things I know about him. He has sandy blond hair and a stocky build and a smile that lights up a gymnasium. He has friends of all ages and races, a mother who is quite proud of him,and an athletic trainer who pushes him hard. He also has Down Syndrome. Did I mention that his trophy has “Most Inspirational” engraved on it?

When his trainer, Gabe, isn’t pushing people like Mr. Inspirational to be their very best, he is traveling back and forth to Ghana, the country where he was born. They say it rains daily there. Until a month ago, the children in his late grandmother’s village attended a school with a dirt floor and leaky roof not so very different from the school Gabe attended as a child before coming to the United States with his parents. He graduated from high school and played college football. Then, he graduated from college and became a business owner and father. Along the way, he won more than a few body building trophies of his own. He had big muscles and even bigger dreams. Thanks to him, today there is a new two room schoolhouse in his grandmother’s village. He built it. And when I say he “built” it, I do not mean that he hired other people to build a school. He literally built it. From the ground up. Cement block by cement block.

There aren’t a lot of inspirational stories when you turn on the TV these days. Everybody is either mad about something or mad at someone, it seems. I’m sick of the noise.There are days I want to toss the TV on the fire circle in the woods, pour a little gasoline on it, and strike a big old match. We are sorely in need of a few heroes. At least I know I am.

Today, I was in the presence of two.

One has a shiny new trophy.

The other one built a school.

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Days of laughter, days of tears

So here’s the thing about wedding receptions when your son is the Best Man. Sometimes it takes twenty years to find out that one of the little neighbor boys spent the better part of a day tied up in your garage.

After this wedding toast revelation, the Groom’s mother and I spent a few minutes wondering what else we didn’t know back when our boys were smaller, louder, and somewhat messier than they are now. Probably quite a lot. Even so, we got a little misty thinking of those days when there were little boys in many of the homes on either side of our tree-lined street. We talked about the days of tears and laughter. Days of bee stings, acorn wars, and empty Freez-ee wrappers stuck to the driveway. The pizza parties and Pokemon cards strewn about. It was a busy, sticky, time of our lives. What mother of little boys does not wish for just one more day of it once they are grown?

On Friday, her fair-haired boy married his true love, a dark-haired beauty in a flowing, white gown. All their people witnessed the miracle of what Love can accomplish. I took notes during the final embrace of that mother and her son before he stepped up to the altar to join hearts and hands with his beloved. Then, after the vows, there was joy and laughter, music and food. And thanks to the Best Man, some pretty good stories, too.

At long last, they are grown, these sons of ours.

No wonder weddings make Moms like us a little misty.

Every October

At dawn, there was a heavy blanket of fog over the river.  This is a bittersweet sight for people who spend one last night at the cabin before it is closed for another season. At least it is for people like me who love the summer months and get a little bit melancholy as the days grow shorter, darker, and colder. Autumns, and fog, and cabins by rivers are mixed blessings in October.

Over the weekend, I sealed nearly everything in plastic to keep the mice, who were surely watching from the meadow, out of my bedding and silverware. In October, I am  an optimist when it comes to the war on mouse poop. Come May, I will discover that they have done an end run around the aluminum foil sheets in the drawers and the plastic bags in the closet. I removed all the paper towels and toilet paper but probably missed at least one open box of tissue. I will, no doubt, come back to a shredded mess somewhere. Oh, well. In October, you just do the best you can. You hope that no chipmunks or squirrels move in for the winter and pray, instead, for a nice, plump, little weasel who enjoys mice.

The mist rises and the sun shines. The red oak leaves flutter in the morning breeze. You hear a single gun shot far off in the distance.

You pack up the car with the dog and the rest of the groceries, check the windows and doors one last time, and say goodbye. The cabin by the river will sleep through the winter in her new coat of red stain.

Waiting for Spring, like me.





He loves everything about guns, this son of mine. Buying them, cleaning them, and especially shooting them. Especially that. He’s good at it.

I could blame his attraction to firearms on video games or his obsession with monsters and aliens when he was little, or that my brothers and dad once took him to the gravel pit when he was about twelve years old and came home proudly exclaiming that he was a “Helluva Shot” while he sat off to the side, beaming with pride. Maybe he just likes hitting a target. Who knows?

Here’s what mothers of grown sons do know. They come home for shorter and shorter visits and you want to spend as much time as you can with them so you do what they want to do while they’re home. Even on perfect September days when what they want to do is shoot guns at the gravel pit and you haven’t shot a gun in forever and really have no desire to even though you can.

And so, off we went. We took turns. The couple of cans I actually managed to hit were more luck than skill. I spent the rest of the time watching my fine, broad-shouldered son handle and load his guns, focus on his targets and hit every one. Everything he knows about guns and shooting he has learned from his uncles. This is part of what he has already inherited as a member of our family.

It is easy, during a week like the last one when innocent people have once again, become victims of a mass shooting to hunker down in whichever bunker we find ourselves for whatever reason when it comes to the issue of gun control.  It is easy for people on both sides to say, “See? Here we go again.”

I wish I had the answers. I wish I had never seen the faint scars from bullets on the dark forearms and legs of several of my students from the south side of Chicago. I wish a tall, soft-spoken, basketball player from Detroit had never told me that he’d done prison time when he was barely an adult for killing a five year old at her kitchen table with a stolen gun during a drive by shooting.  I wish I didn’t worry about some angry, bullied, middle schooler bringing his dad’s handgun into my daughter’s classroom, too, but I do. All the time.

I wish that having “Active Shooter” lock down safety training wasn’t a necessary part of the fall workshop agenda for teachers, but it is. That tragedies like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and so many others didn’t make me sick with dread at the thought that one of my grown babies might be in the wrong place at the wrong time at a sporting event or concert or in a quiet restaurant on a Saturday night.

Guns and hunting are part of the culture here. If you grow up in rural Minnesota, you are taught from a young age to respect firearms and use them responsibly. That they are weapons, not novelties or toys. We are taught never to aim at anything we don’t intend to either destroy or eat. I learned all of that growing up. Most of you reading this probably did, too. Thanks to his uncles, my son did. Clearly, far too many others have not. We see it more and more. The fact that these individuals own guns is what keeps this mother, this teacher and citizen, awake at night. I wish I had the answers.

So if you do, please tell me. Because there are monsters under my bed.

And I’d like to get some sleep.



A healing place

Here’s the most important thing I learned last week. If you want to feel lucky, visit the Mayo Clinic on an ordinary day when you are just along for the ride.

It’s easy to take so much for granted. Clean water, abundant food, cell phone service, ATM’s filled with as much cash as our account balance will permit, gasoline at pumps, and a dry bed to crawl into come to mind as just a few of those things that we all take for granted until we can’t. One natural disaster removes all chance that a person will ever take those things for granted again, I’m sure.

And then there’s medical care. Most of us take that for granted, too. Because even when we may gripe about our high deductibles or not being able to see the doctor we want, we know that in a true emergency that we will still be seen and treated by qualified nurses and doctors in clean hospitals pretty much wherever we live here in the U.S.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, 1.3 million people from all fifty states and 137 countries were seen there in 2016. The organization employs over 63,000 individuals. The day we were there, we learned that one of the labs sees over 1200 patients every day just to draw blood. It is an amazing place. Just amazing.

Patients are rich and poor. Male and female. Different races and religions. Many speak English, and many do not.  There are tiny, brand-new humans pushed in strollers and frail, not-so-new ones with walkers. The ravages of disease are evident on many who slump in wheelchairs pushed by worried family members. Whether you happen to be a president or a prince, a pauper or prisoner, once you enter the Mayo Clinic you have just one title: Patient. In a world that often seems more and more divided racially and socio-economically, this is reassuring. The Mayo Clinic displays the best of who we are, I think.

And maybe that’s why I left there feeling luckier,healthier, and more hopeful than I have felt in a really long time. Going along for the ride on an ordinary day to witness a healing place like the Mayo Clinic will do that.