I call Alvin Paulson "the Sweet Singer of Polk County" because he from time to time writes in a farm journal a memoir of life in that neighborhood when he was a kid growing up. I wait anxiously for the occasional appearance of the octogenarian scribe because it gives this octogenarian hope that what old folks have to say has meaning for today's readers. Last month, the Sweet Singer wrote about his first day at school, South Clayton District No. 7, back in 1936. He came armed with crayons and pencils purchased at Erickson's store in Clayton.
Have you ever gone to bed after a vigorous exchange of ideas with one with whom you disagree? Have you then tossed and turned in bed, wishing you had said THIS when your adversary said THAT? Have you kept on tossing and turning until the alarm clock rang in a new morning? Of course you have!
In 1870, my great grandad reported in his diary that he had contracted with a 29-year-old" Norske" named Ole Hegg to do some farm work for him. Ole was a "newcomer" from Norway who homesteaded many miles away and Dave was hard up for help on his new farm in Lincoln Township. This was the deal:
Just received my September issue of "Harper's Magazine", which is celebrating its 168th birthday this year, still pretty durable in this age of change. It might have been otherwise. When I went to work at the Star Tribune owned by Cowles Media, it was having big trouble with one of its other properties, Harper's, which the company had purchased in a burst of optimism. Since the purchase, Cowles had poured millions of dollars into the old magazine, hoping to keep it afloat. Finally, the Cowles family gave up and sold it to the MacArthur Foundation for $1.
Strange coincidence. My literary almanac tells me that journalist / historian H.L. Mencken and publisher Alfred Knopf were born on this day, Mencken in 1880, Knopf in 1892. The coincidence reminded me that Mencken, the star writer of the Baltimore Sun and Knopf, the dean of American publishing, were best of friends, but never celebrated their same birthdays because, according to Knopf, it was the high tide of the hayfever season and a sneezing Mencken was ugly during those times and not into such celebrations.
Several weeks ago my old employer, the Star Tribune printed its annual executive pay report in its Sunday edition. With all the complaints about Trump's tariff proposal's eating into the ability of the average stiff to make a living wage, it was very satisfying to read some good news in my old employer's business section. The good news? The headline says it all: MINNESOTA CEO PAY RISES 25 PERCENT OVER LAST YEAR. You can imagine what a relief it was in the Wood household to read these glad tidings.
"Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage, against the dying of the light." Poet Dylan Thomas said that in 1952. "Old Age sure as hell isn't for sissies." "You say you have nothing to write about. You're always griping about the miseries of growing old. Why don't you write about that?" My Beautiful Wife said that the other day as I sat before my word processor. B.W. always seems to know just what to say when I most deserve it.
Whatever happened to P.J. O'Rourke? The last time I heard from the take-no-prisoners satirist he was one of the panelists on "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me!" Before that he wrote for Rollingstone, for the Harvard Lampoon and several hilarious books. My favorite was "Holidays in Hell," which recounted the results of his Rollingstone assignment to vacation in Terrible Places, like Jim and Tammy Bakker's amusement park, Heritage USA, and the Olympics in Seoul, Korea. And then he sort of disappeared.
It was 148 years ago today, my great-grandad penned the following in his diary. "Fair and cool wind today. Went berrying today. Charlie Sherwood and Wife came for a visit. Eunice and Shubal over. I am not very well today. Took a dose of pills last night and one this morn. Feel a little better. Had our first green corn. Today."
I just read in my "Literary Book of Days" that on this day in 1815, novelist Richard Henry Dana was born in 1815. And that novelist Herman Melville was also born on this day in 1819. I've had lots of experience with both those writers and I can only say, what IRONY! That these two American writers would share the same birthday.