St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

78th Annual Sterling Settler's Picnic

Back in the late 1930s, the folks who had lived in West Sterling, along the St Croix River, got together for a reunion picnic at the junction of Trade River and Cowan Creek -- at the Boy Scout camp just up from the bridge.
  They enjoyed themselves so much, that now 78 years later, folks from the area still gather to have a summer picnic and talk about the old days.  Nowadays it is at the Cushing Community Center in Cushing, WI,   This year it is Sunday, June 26th noon potluck.
  Having gone to picnics since I was a kid, and helped with them since then, I sort of fall into assuming that I should go each year.  And Margo and I do.  Mom was the secretary (or maybe treasurer) for many years, and she and dad always got us to help prepare the picnic, back in the days when preparing included mowing the poison ivy, cutting the brush around the campsite, helping the Christenson's setup the wooden benches and gathering firewood to make a wash boiler full of coffee.
   Nowadays it is easier, as we have facilities that are ready to go with a little rearrangement.  The outdoor picnics were great, and we often had 100 or more folks come.  Nowadays we are happy to keep the picnic running, even if the group is smaller.  One of those traditions that attempt to add a little glue to a community--a chance to visit with your neighbors and to honor the older folks in our community with an award just for being 80 years old or better and for being married for 50 years or more.
  Sometimes it seems that I get too wrapped up in helping put on the picnic (and other events sponsored by our local history societies) so I am more worried that everything goes smoothly than I am able to enjoy the event.  Feeling responsible for things is a fault I have, because even if I didn't show up, the picnic would go on fine, people would still enjoy themselves, and the few touches I add would not be missed.  When I get old, I am going to try to do better at enjoying things and being more irresponsible.  I have a good start, as my responsibility has been declining as my memory of what it is I am supposed to do has faded.  I tell people that if you want me to do something on a particular day and time, send me an email the day before or morning of and you have a decent chance of seeing me there.
  Want to know what a 1960s Sterling Old Settler's Picnic was like?  Read a previous blog entry at this link;   1960 Sterling Picnic

Photos from the 2015 picnic can be seen at:  2015 Picnic photos

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Summer #70

June has arrived on the farm; the gardens are growing, the grass lush, the hot weather still welcome, some lettuce, spinach, rhubarb and the start of strawberries from the garden move us into summer again.

With Margo away visiting her relatives in West Bend, Scott and I tour into the 1958 bathroom and re-plumbed, fixtured, floored, walled etc.  We changed it with handicap accessibility in mind -- attempting to make the house ready for an older but familiar set of residents.   It is nice here, so getting things pre-arranged makes sense as we tumble into our 7th decade (at least I do this year).

Margo is still somewhat wobbly from the back surgeries and continues with physical therapy with the hope of regaining more strength and balance.  I am pretty normal and can actually still do a hard day's work--for me that means gardening or wood cutting or maple syruping.  I doubt I would stand up for a day's throwing hay bales around like Dad did in his 70s.

Fixing old buildings, cleaning out machinery and getting rid of 76 years of farming accumulation is progressing slowly, but steadily.  Doing it slowly is not too bad, as long as we keep making progress.  The next job is some reworking the lake cabin porch --roof and supporting poles need some replacement after 41 years.  We built it when Margo was pregnant with Scott, so we can remember the age easily.

I like to follow politics and over the years have changed from moderate Republican to moderate Democrat.  By the Bill Clinton years, it seemed as there no longer any room for moderateness in the Republican party--which in Minnesota was really a moderate group with folks like Arne Carlson and Rochester's Republican representative who was actually pro-choice.

Things have been pretty stable economically over the past 6 years, not booming, but most everyone who wants a job can find one, and in Minnesota, with its better economy, businesses are having difficulty hiring folks.  We in NW Wisconsin benefit greatly from the MN economy as if we want a good paying job and are willing to drive across the border, we can find one.

With graduation underway and graduation cards and parties I look back over my own life.  The very best thing I did for myself was to stay in school through college.  I had a math science degree and went back after that for a teaching degree.  I know, even now, that if I wanted a decent job, I could find one as a math science teacher.  I didn't stay at that, and went into computers, and even in that field I could go back if I wanted to.  Mostly the education opened the door for all sorts of opportunities with the degree, the key to the lock.

So I give the advice that was given to me by Dad which varied  from "get as much as education as you can stand" to "stay in school as long as you can stand it."  Back in the 50s and 60s, we still could get a decent union job and do the 35 years and out, but that seems mostly gone.  The attack by the right on unions set a race to the bottom for employers.  I remember when this all started -- an incessant flow of stories in the Reader's Digest attacking unions for corruption and practices (think Jimmy Hoffa).  It was true that some unions needed cleaning up, but folks like Reagan came in and intentionally broke unions (air controllers).

  With no collective power, employees are at the mercy of the employer.  My early working days were always union.  The plastic factory,  Stokely's canning company, my 2.5 years of military obligation served in a hospital (I refused to kill people and got assigned to be a nurse's aide in a county nursing home and mental institution instead -- there I helped start and was in charge of the union of 250 workers when I was 23), and then my teaching years.  We had a combined worker voice to approach management about working conditions, pay, benefits and problems.

Anyway, nowadays, my advice to new graduates:  you are on your own in the world of jobs and you are only as good as you prepare yourself--and that isn't physical preparation, but mental (at least if you want a decent paying job most places).  Life can be much easier if you earn enough money to make it so, and that requires self investment, which really means education.  So "stay in school longer than you can stand it" is my version of Dad's advice.

Of course, some of us really did like learning and thought teachers were not only the gateway to good jobs, but what was really important, learning how the world works.  Science and math were, I thought, the only real fields where what you do has the ability to actually improve people's lives for the better.  I don't mean that art or music or writing isn't good, but that what scientists do actually can keep people from illness, from starvation and solve physical problems we face.  When physical problems are at bay, we can enjoy the rest of what life offers.