I should haven known all of this. And the reality that I didn’t weighs on me as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day today.
Eight years to the date after Emmett died, 250,000 people gathered in DC for the March on Washington for jobs and freedom. During this event, King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
I expect young Emmett, who lived in Chicago with his mother, but was visiting family in Mississippi when he died, had dreams. He had his entire life ahead of him. His mother warned him, before he headed south on the train, that attitudes toward African Americans differed from those in the north. She advised him to be careful. Cautious around white people. He was reportedly killed after flirting with a married white woman in a shop.
His death is tragic beyond words. His grieving mother determined to carry on, to reveal the truth, to raise awareness. Mamie Till Mobley spent the rest of her life speaking about racial injustice. And that began with her decision to have an open casket. She wanted the world to see her son—how he had been beaten, shot, his eyes gouged out before his body was tossed into the river.
As I watched this real-life story unfold in the television drama, I sobbed. At the unfathomable cruelty. At the senselessness. At the grief of a mother who endured the unthinkable.
Just months after Emmett’s death, Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white person in Montgomery, Alabama. Soon thereafter, a 26-year-old pastor, Martin Luther King Jr., called for a city-wide bus boycott.
And here we are today, decades later, with racial injustice issues still existing. Certainly, progress has been made. But in recent years, it feels like we’ve regressed. Discrimination. Efforts to squelch voting rights. Murder. Hatred flaring.
I admire Mamie Till Mobley for her courage and tenacity. Her strength. Now it’s up to each of us to honor her son by doing our part. Love. Respect. Speak up. Care. Do what we can to assure that no other mother—although there have been many since—loses a child to hatred.
“THERE’S NOTHING ANY of us can do about it,” she said. I disagree.
“What a mess,” she texted. I fully agree.
Those assessments came in recent communications with two family members about the current state of COVID. While a certain resignation themes both comments, they differ.
I believe we hold the power to “do something” about COVID. We’ve always had the ability to end this pandemic. If only we would listen. And act. But now we’re in so deep to this not listening to health and science, but rather to the voices of misinformation and untruths and politics, that I wonder when we will ever get to the other side. (Note that I’m thankful for those of you who do listen to health and science and act.)
PROTECTING & PREVENTING
So what can we do? First and foremost, get vaccinated and that includes getting boosted. (Thank you to those who have done so.) I am aware of far too many individuals who went unvaccinated, got COVID and then died. Perhaps they didn’t believe the science, distrusted the vaccines, listened to a loved one/friend/politician/social media/doctor (yes, even a doctor) advising them not to get the shot, believed they were not at risk for serious illness or death. Reasons vary, but the end result was the same. Needless deaths. That breaks my heart.
None of us knows how COVID will affect our bodies. Until we get it. There’s no guarantee on outcome. But being vaccinated, and following CDC guidelines, assures us that we have done all we can to protect ourselves (and others) from severe disease and/or death. Data backs that.
THE FAITH COMPONENT
As a woman of faith, I’m particularly bothered by the attitude that we don’t need the vaccine because God will protect us through natural immunity or otherwise. He also gave us scientists, researchers and others who develop life-saving vaccines. I consider those individuals, those vaccines, a blessing. Just like I consider other advances in medicine through the years an absolute blessing. Without advances in medicine, and an acceptance of them, we’d be living in the 1800s and early to mid-1900s with women dying in childbirth, children dying of disease, too many people dying of heart attacks… Our life expectancy would be low.
I believe in the power of prayer and I trust in God. Yet, I wouldn’t stand on a railroad track, praying and trusting that God will stop a locomotive barreling toward me. That doesn’t mean my faith is lacking. Not at all. But recognizing the danger and then getting off the track would certainly be a wise decision if I wanted to live.
MASK UP, PEOPLE, JUST DO IT
We have plenty of tools to “do something” about COVID. That includes masking (N95, KN95 or tight-fitting multi-layer cloth over surgical, if you don’t have 95s), staying home if we’re sick, testing (yes, I recognize securing a test right now can be difficult), avoiding crowds, social distancing… Yet, I don’t see this necessarily happening. At least not in Faribault or in rural areas (especially) of Minnesota. Shopping at the grocery store recently found me attempting to slip past two unmasked men conversing and blocking an aisle. That’s not uncommon. Most people in Faribault do not wear face masks in public.
Our city, public school and county require masking inside their facilities. But when I stopped at the library a few days ago, I saw unmasked patrons. A notice on the front door states that masks are required. Masks are even available on a table. I can cite many other examples, but I think you’ve all seen the lack of masking or the ineffective half-masking/”chin diapers”/gaiters/clear plastic face shields.
I wish that employees at grocery stores and other local businesses would wear face masks. That would set an example and show me that the business cares about the health and safety of its customers and of the community in general. The same goes for houses of worship, a place where I would expect mask-wearing as a way to show love and care. These places need to require, not just recommend, face masks. Some Minnesota schools (Owatonna and Worthington, for example, but others also) are only now just requiring face masks. I’m not sure why it took so long, but I expect community resistance factored in.
LISTEN TO THE PLEAS & WARNINGS
What a mess. The mess we’ve gotten ourselves into reaches into every facet of our lives, particularly into healthcare and schools. Staffing shortages in hospitals threaten all of us. In Minnesota, hospitals are overwhelmed. Full. Once again, surgeries are being delayed. Quality of care is being affected as our healthcare providers are stretched thin. That’s according to media reports. I feel for doctors, nurses and other medical personnel who are overwhelmed, frustrated and stressed by caring for COVID patients in this ongoing pandemic. I hear their pleas to the public. Their warnings. Minnesota government officials announced a plan Wednesday to hire temporary nurses, although I’m uncertain where they will find them. It’s a good, and necessary, move.
And in our schools, rising numbers of COVID cases are creating staff shortages and pushing some schools back to distance learning. Faribault Middle School went to distance learning today. And the high school goes to online classes on January 19. The plan now is to return to in-person learning on January 24.
More and more families are delaying funerals. That’s emotionally difficult, yet wise in days such as these. The family of Edward Kohman of Faribault writes in his obituary that a celebration of life for the 84-year-old will be held later “when it’s warmer and perhaps safer to gather.” He died as a result of COVID. The family goes on to write: Dad was vaccinated, but if you want to do something to honor his life, please make sure you are too. I appreciate when a family, even in their grief, considers the health and safety of others, and encourages vaccination. What a loving way to honor the man they loved.
It seems inevitable that all of us will get COVID given the highly-contagious omicron variant. But this is no time to give up. Vaccines, masking and other preventative/protective measures remain especially important. Now, more than ever, we need (like the Kohman family) to think beyond ourselves to the greater good, if we want to get ourselves out of this mess.
NOTE: I moderate all comments and will not publish anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-science, anti-health and/or misinformation on this, my personal blog.
AT RIVER BEND NATURE CENTER in Faribault, you’ll find an abundance of inspirational memorial messages. On benches. On pavers. Even under a tree near the interpretative center.
Recently, I paused to read this quote: Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.
The message seems especially fitting right now, as many of us seek beauty in nature while living in a pandemic world. My appreciation for the outdoors/for nature and the peace and escape it provides has deepened in the past two years. A walk in the woods, along a river, across the prairie, anywhere outdoors, renews my spirit. Strengthens me.
I wondered about the source of the quote I photographed. It comes from Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, published in 1962. The American writer, marine biologist and conservationist is credited with launching the environmental movement with her book. She was deeply concerned about the future of our planet. Her writing prompted changes in laws that protect our world, our environment.
I feel gratitude for writers and environmentalists like Carson. But I also feel grateful for Ruth and Harry, “Strong People Who Loved Nature.” Strength and love go a long way in this world.
WHEN SOUTHERN MINN SCENE, a regional arts and entertainment magazine in southern Minnesota resumed publication late last year, I reclaimed my column. I’m delighted to be back crafting “Through a SoMinn Lens,” an essay of images and words, but mostly images.
A look back at 2021 themed the recently-published January issue. I titled my piece “Reflections and hope during a pandemic year.” I wrote a reflective essay and then searched my photo files for supporting images.
I encourage you to view my column, which features 26 photos, by clicking here. I aim to tell the story of 2021 in southern Minnesota from an everyday perspective. Through my camera lens as I’m out and about. I focus on words, people, events, nature, art, small town Main Street… This is my world. Perhaps your world, too. Or maybe a place not at all familiar.
Yet, wherever we live, whatever we do, we share the commonality of humanity. We need to remember that as we begin 2022, as we continue pushing through this pandemic with hope.
“IT IS WHAT IT IS.” If I hear that phrase one more time, I shall scream. Inwardly, at least.
Here’s why. I find that string of five words dismissive, uncaring and impolite. Let’s say you’re talking to someone about a difficult situation—whether personal or affecting many (like COVID)—and that individual responds with, “It is what it is.” That reply closes the door. Correction, slams the door to further conversation.
That statement, in my opinion, indicates the other person hasn’t listened to anything you’ve said, doesn’t care and/or simply accepts whatever with no concern about your thoughts or feelings. End of discussion. Alright then. Too many times I’ve felt dismissed by “It is what it is.”
How about you? Do you feel the same about that phrase?
And then there’s the word “awesome.” If I hear that word one more time, I shall scream. Inwardly, at least. It’s overused, thus meaningless. And what exactly is meant by “awesome?” Rather than use a generic word, I want to hear specifics. What makes something/someone “awesome?”
As a wordsmith, words matter to me. As someone who considers herself skilled in the arts of observing and listening, word choice resonates.
So I suppose you could simply tell me something is “awesome” and “It is what it is” as a way of explaining why something is “awesome.”
THOUGHTS, ANYONE? What words or phrases cause you to scream, inwardly, at least?
A life-long Faribault resident, he made a major impact on this community. Not in a splashy, attention-calling way, but rather in the simplicity of a kind and generous soul who lived his Christian faith. He was soft-spoken, gentle, giving. Always smiling. I expect many stories will emerge in the coming days about Buck’s acts of love. I have my own to share. But first a little background.
A MAN OF FAITH & FAMILY
Buck was first and foremost a man of great faith. He faithfully attended my church, Trinity Lutheran, where he welcomed me to Faribault nearly 40 years ago. Buck was an unofficial community ambassador, showing newcomers around town. He made me feel comfortable as a new bride living in a new place. His example of devotion to God and service to others proved inspirational. He was involved in church and in many community organizations.
He was, too, a family man—husband of Delilah (she preceded him in death), father of four, a grandfather. Friend to many.
After WW II, he joined his brothers, Alvin (Al) and Walter (Putts) in operating Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. He is the last surviving brother. Their parents, Ferdie and Martha, started the business with a shoe repair and harness shop opened in the late 1930s. The Burkhartzmeyers grew the family shoe business, now with third-generation owners, Brian (Buck’s son) and Bruce (Al’s son). And, yes, the store still includes a repair shop.
Buck specialized in fitting and modifying shoes as a certified pedorthist. Now Brian continues that tradition of offering corrective footwear to meet the needs of customers. Their services are well-known, and not just locally. Inside the shoe repair shop hangs a framed thank you letter from Twins baseball great and Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Buck, who enjoyed Minnesota sports and played basketball while in the Navy, assisted many an athlete with their shoe needs. Helping the everyday person, though, meant just as much to Buck.
Through the decades, our family purchased footwear from Burkhartzmeyer Shoes. Work boots. Snow boots. Tennis shoes. Dress and casual shoes. Kids shoes. This is the type of shoe store where owners and/or employees measure your feet, slip your feet into shoes/boots, watch you walk, push on toe ends to check fit, adjust sizes as needed. Every effort is made to get a good and comfortable fit. Buck remembered people’s shoe sizes. Burkhartzmeyer Shoes excels in customer service.
GENEROSITY, FROM CANDY TO SHOES
Buck excelled in goodness and kindness, too. In 2004, the year my eldest daughter graduated from high school, he told her to come down to the store before she left for college. He wanted to give Amber a complimentary pair of tennis shoes. Why? Amber had applied for a scholarship from the Faribault High School Class of 1942, but was not awarded the monies. Buck, who served on the scholarship committee, felt so bad that he decided to give her a new pair of shoes. I’ll always remember the moment we walked into Burkhartzmeyer Shoes to find Buck waiting. He fit Amber with a new pair of shoes and wished her well at Winona State University. That was Buck. Generous. I expect many others in this community can share stories of shoes given to them.
He gave away more than shoes. Buck also handed out red licorice sticks to children after Sunday morning church services. He pulled the candy from his suit coat pocket and slipped it into little hands.
But perhaps the selfless and loving spirit of Buck is best shown in his many visits with those living in nursing homes. Daily he visited his mother, Martha, at St. Lucas Care Center. She died in 2005 at the age of 107. What a loving son. And husband. Later, when his wife, Delilah, moved into St. Lucas, he visited her daily also. And many others. Endless elders whom he remembered and uplifted with his visits. Employees at Faribault’s east side Kwik Trip, where Buck often stopped after those visits, knew him well.
A number of years back, Randy and I, as part of our bible study’s Christmas outreach ministry, stopped at Buck’s house to deliver a basket of fresh fruit. I remember sitting in his sprawling living room engaged in conversation. I don’t recall what we discussed. But to be in Buck’s presence was to feel uplifted. And joyful.
There’s one more thing Buck did—and I expect he did this for others, too. Whenever an article about me published in the Faribault Daily News, he laminated a copy and stuck it in my church mailbox. That tells you something. He recognized my accomplishments as a writer and wanted me to understand how much he valued me and my God-given gifts.
Today I mourn the loss of this incredibly kind and generous man who showed such love to me and my family. I expect many in this community can say the same. We are all the better for having known Buck. He touched many lives with his gentleness of spirit and will be forever cherished.
ONCE UPON A TIME in The Land of Plenty, people far and wide welcomed the new year. Some with optimism. Others with cautiousness. And yet others with ambivalence.
But at least one family celebrated as they began their third calendar year in power. No one had elected them to office, attempted a take-over or used nepotism to open doors. Rather, the family patriarch, The Great Invader, simply slipped into the country and began his campaign of destruction. Illness. Death. Discord. Division. He spared nothing to remain in power.
His plan was working. Despite warnings from The Ministry of Health. Despite a life-saving potion. Despite Centers for Healing filling to capacity. He gloated in his success and that of his cousins, enlisted to help with the cause. His Office of Misinformation labored into the wee hours disseminating falsehoods, which quickly passed via word-of-mouth from village to village and then into the countryside.
The Office of Truthfulness likewise worked tirelessly, posting daily information and statistics on scrolls in the village square. Tallies of the sick. The dead. But often The Village Know-It-All ripped down the scrolls before anyone could read them. He despised the officials who released facts and supporting data. He considered them a threat.
And so life went. The Great Invader and his family roamed mostly unfettered, infecting more people than ever. They’d had enough time to adjust, to tweak their strategies. Even those protected by a life-saving potion were now falling ill, although their illnesses proved mostly minor. Those without the protection of a magic potion, however, proved especially vulnerable. Too often they fell gravely ill, filling cots at Centers for Healing to overflowing. Others, particularly the elderly and those who suffered from other maladies, died. The Great Invader watched streams of mourners gather in the village graveyard. He clearly saw just how effective his efforts on the unprotected, even if many villagers didn’t.
Health officials pleaded with villagers to accept the life-saving potion. They warned of a shortage of cots and healers, of overworked and stressed caregivers. They warned of death and severe illness. But none of it seemingly mattered. Even the deaths of loved ones did not convince the villagers to protect themselves, their families, friends and community.
NAME-CALLING AT THE PUB
In the village of Drofdem, locals crammed elbow to elbow over pints of ale at the pub. Rumors and untruths circulated, fueled by alcohol. When the proprietor, who had taken the life-saving potion and who wore a protective face mask, circulated among the revelers, they scoffed at him. Called him names. Laughed in his face. He remained stoic, showing no emotion while inwardly reeling from the insults. He wanted nothing more than to throw them out of his pub, bar the door and flee. But his family depended on him.
MORE ISSUES & CONCERNS, OR NOT
Several cobblestone streets away, students gathered inside the village school, in cramped windowless rooms with clay walls and dirt floors. Few of those children had received the magic potion to fend off The Great Invader. Their parents distrusted The Ministry of Health, believing instead the misinformation spewed by The Village Know-It-All and his core team. They refused to mask their children, although that was proven to help stop The Great Invader. No one, they claimed, should tell them what was best for their children.
However, in far away cities, teachers expressed concerns about the ever-spreading virus. Some refused to teach, noting the risk to their health and that of their students. Debates and division arose.
Other concerns existed in The Land of Plenty, too. Shortages of wagons and oxen meant delays in getting shoes from cobblers to far-away cities. Peasant farmers fell ill, creating a shortage of food in the marketplace. Travelers found themselves stranded, unable to secure transportation as cart drivers fell ill and dirt roads turned to muck in torrential rains. Threats of war remained as universal as time.
HOPE & LOVE
Yet, in a small stone house in the village, a waif of a girl and her mother remained hopeful. Of little means, especially since the death of their father and husband at the hands of The Great Invader (pre life-saving potion), they had enough. They had each other. They had taken the protective potion. Each evening they sat by the fireside, the mother singing softly to her beloved daughter. “You are my sunshine.” Even in the darkness, love prevailed. No one, not even The Great Invader and his cousins or The Village Know-It-All, could destroy their love or diminish their hope.
HERE WE GO AGAIN. Due to extreme cold temps, the first-ever Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast at an historic Minnesota country church grounds has been rescheduled for the second time.
The event at Valley Grove churches is, as of today (Thursday), slated for 2 – 4 pm Saturday, January 8. Weather forecasters predict a temp of around 30 degrees, much warmer than our recent weather. Saturday will also be warmer than the predicted three degrees on Sunday, the first rescheduled date.
If you attend the Saturday gathering in the parking lot of this rural Nerstrand hilltop setting, dress warm. Even 30 degrees can feel cold if the slightest wind blows and you’re not dressed properly. That includes wearing warm winter boots. Organizers also encourage guests to bring blankets, chairs and hot beverages. If you have snowshoes and want to walk the prairie, bring that footwear.
On bitterly cold January days like today I respect the hardiness of those early Norwegian settlers who endured much to make a new home in America, in rural Rice County. This morning when I shoveled snow from my driveway and sidewalk, I three times returned to the house to warm myself. Even wearing long johns under jeans, a heavy parka over my clothes, boots, a hat, mittens and a scarf wrapped around my neck and face, my fingers and toes began to numb. That’s a warning sign that, if ignored, could lead to frostbite.
So here I am, inside my cozy office, fleece throw tossed across my lap, thankful for the warmth of the overworked furnace. Thankful to have finished that shoveling in, according to the local radio station, a wind chill temp of -31 degrees. No wonder I felt cold.
When the Bonfire & Donut Hole Roast happens on Saturday, the temp will feel some 60 degrees warmer.
IMAGINE A WORLD OF PEACE. Of minimal division. Of connecting and compassion and care. That seems elusive right now. But one can hope, aim toward, embrace such goals.
The annual Lions International Peace Poster Contest encourages me. Young people from all around the world create art themed to peace. Therein lies the possibility that perhaps some day we can achieve peace and unity. If our young people have anything to say about it.
While overcoming new challenges brought on by an unprecedented global pandemic, we’re celebrating the things that keep us connected—to each other, to our communities, all together around the world. This year, we invite young people to envision, explore and visually express these connections.
And that these young artists did. Maelynn Thoele, 13, a seventh grader at Sibley East in Arlington, Minnesota, won multiple district competitions to advance to the international level with her peace poster. Her puzzle art fits visually well with the “We Are All Connected” theme. Just like puzzle pieces fit together to create a scene, peoples and countries connect to create our world.
The details in Maelynn’s art convey peace in the backdrop peace symbol, a dove and more. Her art includes the flags of many countries and hands of multiple skin tones assembling that puzzle. Together. Connected.
NOTE: I’d love to see the award-winning art of these students featured on t-shirts, posters, cards, etc. and, in Maelynn’s case, on a puzzle. Thoughts?
A Peace Poster Tabletop Exhibit is available (and loaned at no cost) to Lions groups in the U.S. The peace exhibit has been displayed, for example, in libraries, community events and Lions conventions. Call (630) 203-3812. I’d love to see that come to my Minnesota community.
HE EXITED JUST IN TIME, hours before snow moved into Minnesota on Tuesday evening. Followed by high winds and, then, returning arctic cold.
If you were to ask my 20-something son, he might say he didn’t leave soon enough. After moving to Indiana in late 2021 to pursue his PhD at Purdue University, he’s found the climate there warmer. And, for him, warm is good. The body acclimates quickly. He did not appreciate the cold snap of subzero temps in Minnesota during his two-week holiday visit or the overnight temperature of 62 degrees in our house. I handed him a stack of blankets.
My gratitude for his exit relates to air travel, which has been nightmarish with cancellations and delays seemingly unending. Some due to weather. Others due to staffing shortages attributed to COVID. When he booked his flight, I suggested a direct flight rather than a lay-over in Chicago. I figured there would be less chance of problems flying directly from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Indianapolis. That held true.