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Friday, May 31, 2019

Not a review of William Kent Krueger's Sulfur Springs

William Kent Krueger is one of my favorite Minnesota authors. There are many such authors, both male and female, who write in diverse genres, usually set in Minnesota. As you know, when a book is placed in a location that you’re familiar with, it helps to bring it alive.  Krueger basically writes detective stories.  The background is often in Minnesota's forested lake country, known as Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Lake Superior or the nearby towns of the Iron Range. In Sulfur Springs Cork O'Connor, Krueger's protagonist and former Sheriff, has a new wife named Rainy.  She is an Ojibwe.  Cork is partly Indian and mostly Irish. In Sulfur Springs, Rainy’s son calls from Arizona and tells his mom that he has murdered someone, mentions one name and the phone goes dead. Cork, now retired from the detective business, and Rainy rush off to Arizona to help. There they encounter an environment far different from the lakes and woods of northern Minnesota. In this alien environment they find out that her missing son is part of a group(Coyotes) who try to rescue refugees from Guatemala fleeing from wars and extreme poverty, all to seek refuge in America.   These families are often left to die waterless and lost in the desert by scammers who take their money and abandon them. Blocking their way, besides the desert, are the beginnings of real walls and barbed wire, border patrols and vigilantes.  Besides the vigilantes, there are also the drug traffickers who all have their own reasons for building higher walls, or in the case of the vigilantes and the drug traffickers, killing people. In plain English, the refugees are people crossing through a war zone. The story inside this  Krueger's mystery is a tragedy writ large in the place far away from Minnesota. This issue divides our country ever further between the red and blue states of America.

I recently met William Kent Krueger in our town library. The taxpayers of Minnesota passed a legacy amendment referendum raising our state taxes for protection of the environment as well as cultural and art support. Mr. Krueger has visited a number of town libraries because of that referendum. I arrived at the Spring Valley's public library early to speak to our librarian and her aides when through the door the famous New York Times best-selling author arrived to set up for his presentation. I greeted him and we spoke for about 10 minutes. We compared a few notes on both of our living at one point in St. Paul, and I said at the end of his presentation I was going to ask him a question. He then said I should ask him now, and I'm glad I did because after his presentation he was surrounded by fans and people clamoring to buy his most recent yet unpublished book.  I said something like this, "Surely you had to know that you would get bad reviews and comments and perhaps even threats for writing about refugees crossing from Mexico into the United States in Sulfur Springs? His answer in a nutshell was to nod his head and say ‘Yes.’ ‘Why,’ I asked and he explained. I can't remember his exact words, but they were what I wanted to hear. He cared. It was an issue that touched him deeply and he needed to write this book. And he did.

His actual presentation, at least for the first half, was quite a surprise. He never mentioned his own books but talked about libraries and books and their great influence on all of us in our early childhood. There were many parents and grandparents in the audience so he spoke of how those early books that our parents read to us had a powerful influence on us for the rest of our lives.  He explained and reviewed the impact of Dr. Seuss and  other authors like him. The audience even could mimic his words as they anticipated his punchlines. The audience was enthralled. Later he talked about his books and his experiences and how he wrote and what was coming and answered all the questions that his fans wanted to hear about. I didn't ask any more questions and when I left ahead of the crowd, I thank the taxpayers of Minnesota for making this special evening possible and William Kent Krueger for being there. And since then I've finished reading all his books and can tell you, if you love a good detective story, now you'll know where to find quite a few.

 Cork O'Connor, the hero of many of Krueger's books has  a favorite beer. I hate to say it's brewed in. But it’s my favorite as well. The brewery is in in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Some years ago I bought a Lienies hat at the brewery and wore it for more than a decade till it recently fell all apart. It was white and red so I won't try to Trump or change anything about this not a review but plainly the books references to refugees and walls might seem out of today's headlines. But what I'm concerned about today is getting a new red and white hat and I've located several.  So I could drive over to Wisconsin and get a new one or perhaps the following might example might serve just as well and so here is perhaps even better alternative. The colors are right though it doesn't say make America great again. I remember reading Orwell's 1984 when I was in high school in the 1950s. The literary reference to that book  might just as well apply today. What you think?        

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Dogs Journey

Serendipity means a happy coincidence of effects and  circumstances. Recently, after a long morning at Cottagewood, where was the usual reports about Barb falling repreatedly usually out of her confinement to a wheelchair. That night she was found on the floor in her room about 2 AM facing the bed and yelling for me to come and rescue her. My suggestions of having her where her walking shoes during the day to help give her some balance and have assisted morning walks ran up against various state laws and local protocols and all the usual excuses and mumbo-jumbo. After lunch somewhat giving up, I decided to go to a movie based on a book I'd  read some years ago.  So I went to see a Dog’s Journey the dearly. The next day  at 11 o'clock I had an appointment with Dr. Kirsch who told me my hope for  the  right knee sometime in July was off  due to my recent bout with pseudo-gout and more specifically the cortisone shot which over night ended my desire to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. It seems cortisone reduces the ability of the body to fight off infections. I guess that explains why both Barb and I for years after left knee replacements had to take antibiotic pills whenever we visited the dentist. I asked the doctor how serious the risk was of going had with the surgery and his reply basically was “well, you  get an infection there and we’ll probably have to amputate you right leg”. Hmmm I guess I’ll wait till September…..

This is not intended to be what Stacy, my very wise cleaning lady and EMT, calls a “pity party” nor some extraneous “drama”which I am getting rid of by writing about a dog movie.. The movie began about 1: 30 and I found myself all alone in the theater both literally and figuratively.  The scene was a farm we see  a beautiful young woman and mom of a little girl. The mom lost her husband in the war in Iraq. Now she was drinking too much and paying little or no attention to her child. The grandparents offered to raise the little girl, and instead their daughter took her child planning never to return to the farm so she could a musical career life in the big city. The catch to this story is all about Bailey, the beloved dog of the grandparents. Bailey had already adopted and protected the little girl. Given the mission to protect the little girl we see  Bailey return to protect her in the form of a series of other dogs who carry on his life and mission.

Pretty sappy I guess but in our family there was Max our first dog, and big guy a. K. A. Baron our first German Shepherd and Ethan our oldest grandson and several other coincidences of names and circumstances. Halfway through the movie sitting in the seat for two I lost it. Later, on the way out unbeknownst to me, there was an elderly couple in the theater. Out in the parking lot the lady came up behind me and said “your a dog lover like us aren’t you?” I could only nod in response, while thinking that's just a small part of it.This movie hit a too close to home.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Starry Stary Night

Dear fellow bloggers and friends, I am writing tonight about yesterday’s visit to Mrs. T’s memory care facility at Cottagewood. It’s actually a story I’ve titled  “Starry Starry Night”after French artist Vincent van Goghs painting of the same name. The song itself is named Vincent by Don Mclean.
I and Barb were discussing with the head nurse Chris, Barb’s numerous recent falls. The issue was simply what to do to keep her safe and if possible avoid permanently assigning her to a wheelchair. During this lengthy semi successful discussion I finally heard some music from the commons room around the fireplace. Taking Barb’s hand we chose to follow the music.
Finding a seat in a large circle involving most of the residents and their aides and caretakers we focused on a large boned blonde woman beautifully singing as she played her guitar. Her companion, also in his 50s was quite short with thick glasses and looked to me like a retired hippy the from an earlier decade. He also was playing his guitar while occasionally pounding on it for rhythm. He also sang quite well. She asked the audience for any further suggestions on what they could play. No response. So I raise my hand and volunteered the notion of some “golden oldies”. That’s the phrase I had used and previously writing about the Valentine’s day where we got rock ‘n roll from the pianist and later waltzes for the Dementia land luncheon with your sweetheart and Ball .
This time though, I’m not exactly sure how to describe the music, let’s just call it old time hip big city folk music from decades ago. Some of the audience was sleeping, some watching and listening and a very few tapping, smiling and singing along. It was all good. And then….
And then I heard the phrase which they were both singing, “Starry Starry Night.” And I put my face in my hands, listened and then began to cry. I don’t believe anyone except the female guitarist noticed my reaction at first but in any case she kept on going and so did I. As the song concluded I stood up and approached her to thank her and she nodded and pointed to her husband. As I approached him he held out his hand and said”I know”and I said bipolar. And the name? Ted. Then she approached and gave me a hug and said”I’m so sorry, we will play it again for you at the end. Later, when she looked at her watch, I waved my finger and shook my head no and she nodded and I requested American pie. The audience smiled and Barb and I stood up to dance as we had when Don McLean sang the some years ago in the Rochester Civic Auditorium.  Bye, bye Miss American Pie
Drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was dry
And them good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye
Singin' this'll be the day that I die
Everyone has been guessing the meaning of all these words since forever. That song is  now is legend.
Oh, could that man could sing and composed the songs  he sang and for others as well. Often to be their greatest hits. Roberta Flack   sang her greatest hit “ killing me softly with his song, ” with these words 
Strumming my pain with his fingers
Singing my life with his words
Killing me softly with his song Killing me softly with his song
It was about McLean.  Ending this story with one of Barb and my favorite songs composed and sung by Don Mclean. AND I LOVE YOU SO.    I played our piano back in the day and we both sang that song.......