Sunday, September 27, 2015

This old house

One of our local columnists just published an article about her late parents, and the house that she grew up in.

Even though the house no longer exists (it was flattened by a bull dozer in August of this year) she still feels a strong attachment to it. The attachment, of course, is not to the building itself, but to the memories that are tied to it.

I spent the first 3 years of my life living at 958 McLean Avenue in St. Paul, Minnesota, an old house that DOES still exist (and can be viewed on Google Maps) but I have virtually no memories of the place.

When my mother became pregnant with my sister in the summer of 1949, the folks realized that they were going to need a larger house, and they started searching for a replacement home. When my sister was less than six months old, they moved into an expansion bungalow at 2059 E. Third Street on the east side of St. Paul. Although dad’s mortgage on the place was only $7000, at a 4% interest rate, he was terrified of being in debt, and the house was paid for in full eight years later.

I lived in that house for a large part of the next 22 years, and moved out for good when I got married. Both of my maternal grandparents died in the house, and so did my dad. Mom lived there for a few years after dad’s passing, but her doctor recommended selling it in the spring of 1997 due to her increasingly frail condition, and her time on earth came to an end less than a year later.

Although the house is now more than 70 years old, it’s STILL an attractive house, and it would be right at home in any small town in America. If you would like to see it, just click on the link below:

2059 E. Third

I haven’t set foot in the house on Third Street for nearly 20 years, but I still have a lot of memories of the place, and could still provide a lot of details about its history to anyone who is interested.

Sharon’s ties to her childhood home were severed by a process known as “eminent domain”. Her large and spacious home on Benson Street was in the path of the city’s Shepherd Road expansion, which caused the family to move to a replacement home on the east side of St. Paul, a very convenient six blocks from my home at 2059 E. Third.

When you look at pictures today of 1708 Conway, you’ll realize that it was actually a fairly tiny home, but somehow it was large enough for a family of 5 to live in.

1708 Conway Street

There’s an old saying that nostalgia just isn’t what it used to be, and that same sense of fondness for things of the past also applies to the houses that we used to live in. There’s even a Welsh word for the phenomenon (hiraeth) that has no direct translation into English.

Tomorrow night is the next full moon of the year, and it also is the next total lunar eclipse, an event that is a very rare occurrence. The resulting “blood moon” will provide a little magic for the folks who stay up to watch, and it also provides a GREAT time for reminiscing about the past - starting with all those old houses.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Just the facts, ma’am - just the facts

Dragnet , the TV show, was on the air from 1951-1959, and again from 1967-1970. For virtually all of those shows, Jack Webb played the role of Sergeant Joe Friday, and his most famous line is the one shown above.

Jack Webb came to mind the other day, for an entirely unrelated reason, one that is strongly related to “political correctness”.

When we lived in Wisconsin, I (and both of my children) participated in the Indian Guides program that was sponsored by the YMCA. The advantage of the Indian Guides program over the Scouts is that you couldn’t simply drop off your kids and have a Scoutmaster guide them - you actually had to PARTICIPATE in their activities. The activities usually consisted of weekly craft events at the home of one of the dads. Twice a year, we also participated in an weekend camp out at a YMCA camp. In Wisconsin, the damp of choice was Phantom Lake, the oldest YMCA camp in the country, and its roots go all the way back to 1896.

To fully appreciate this place, though, you need to believe in ghosts,and it would also help to go camping at a Wisconsin YMCA camp on the night of September 2.

Eventually, I became the Federation chief, and had the honor of wearing the full Native American headdress (made of Eagle feathers). I adopted the name of “Chief “Horse feathers” because I suspected that most people wouldn’t known the urban dictionary meaning of the term. My son decided to call himself “pony feathers”.

Apart from the fact that we had a lot of fun on our camp outs, we all grew to truly appreciate the culture of the Native Americans who preceded us.

The Indian Guides program (which later expanded to include the Indian Princess program) was started in 1920’s by a St. Louis YMCA director, and Ojibwe tribe member named Joe Friday (I’m not making this up.)

His views of the Indian Guide program are as follow:

"The Indian father raises his son. He teaches his son to hunt, to track, to fish, to walk softly and silently in the forest, to know the meaning and purpose of life and all that he must know, while the white man allows the mother to raise his son."

Over time, of course, the Indian Guides program became somewhat “politically correct” , and the national YMCA advocated a name change as early as 2002, when they suggested Adventure Guides as a safe alternative. However, the national organization did not REQUIRE local affiliates to change their local names, so Indian Guile programs continued to flourish.

In recent months, an Ojibwe Indian named Andrea Barnwell moved to Lagrange, Illinois with her family.

When Barnwell learned that her local YMCA had an Indian Guides program, she fired off a letter to national YMCA officials. In part, this is what she said:

"I have looked up the information on the Indian Princesses and I find it to be extremely racist and offensive," she wrote in an email to YMCA officials. "The participants dress in Native American regalia, call themselves names based on real tribes, and drum and (chant) in a style they deem to be Native American.

In response, the national YMCA decided that local programs would have to change their names, and drop their decades-old programs, or leave the auspices of the YMCA.

I fully acknowledge that Native Americans have long been mistreated in this country, as evidenced by the fact that they weren’t even recognized as citizens until 1924, and weren’t allowed to vote (in some jurisdictions)until 1970.

However, in this instance, my opinion is that the national YMCA should have “grown a pair” and told anyone who was interested that they weren’t going to change the name.

If you don’t like my opinion, then you can stop calling me “kemosabi”,

P.S. In case you’re wondering, the REAL Lone Ranger was a black man who lived with Native American Indians, and the Spanish meaning of “Tonto” is “ stupid”

Put THAT in you pipe and smoke it!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Anchor babies

With the addition of Donald Trump to the Republican Presidential field, the subject of “anchor babies” has suddenly become more popular. Trump has threatened to deport all 11 million illegal immigrants AS WELL AS any “anchor babies” that may have been born here.

Even many Republican leaders think that he’s nuts, since it has been estimated that it would cost $285 billion to deport those 11 million people, not to mention the additional cost for 9.000.000 anchor babies. That fact hasn’t hurt his popularity with his base, largely composed of white supremacists, nor has it prevented other Republican candidates from “jumping on the band wagon”.

One of the best known “anchor babies” is Rafael Edward Cruz, who is better known as Ted Cruz.

It is commonly believed that Ted automatically became an American citizen upon his birth on December 22, 1970 because his mother was born in Delaware, but the truth is actually a lot more complicated than that.

Cruz’s mother, the former Elizabeth Darragh Wilson was apparently born in Wilmington, Delaware. So far, that means that any child that she gave birth to would automatically become an American citizen, regardless of where that child was born.

Ted’s father, Rafael Bienvenido Cruz was born in Cuba. In 1957, he left Cuba to attend college at the University of Texas in Austin by virtue of a student visa. The only money that he had at the time was $100, which he had sewn into his underwear.

He was able to obtain an exit visa from Cuba due to the fact that the family attorney bribed a Batista official to issue the visa. Due to the regime change in Cuba in 1959, he was granted political asylum in the United States following his graduation from college in 1961.

By 1970, he had remarried, and moved to Canada with his second wife, Elizabeth Darragh Wilaon. Together, they owned a seismic-data processing firm for oil dealers.

At some point before their son “Ted” was born, they both became Canadian citizens. As a result of the change in his nationality, the elder Cruz lost the student visa that had been issued by the United States. Although Canada DOES allow dual citizenship (as does the United States and 43 other countries) the privilege did not exist until February 15, 1977. As a result, Ted’s mother was a citizen ONLY of Canada when he was born - and so was her newborn son.

The family later moved back to Texas, where Ted attended high school.

The status of United States citizens is very broad, and reads as follow:

A person born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after attaining the age of fourteen years.

Due to the fact that Elizabeth Darragh Wilson had lived in the United States for at least 5 years before moving to Canada, her children technically would be America citizens. However, since Canada did not allow dual citizenship in 1970, neither she or her son would have been allowed to be citizens of both Canada and the United States.

In order to be a United States senator, an individual must have been a United States citizen for at least 9 years:

Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution sets three qualifications for senators: 1) they must be at least 30 years old, 2) they must have been citizens of the United States for at least the past 9 years, and 3) they must be inhabitants of the states they seek to represent at the time of their election.

Unless Ted himself became a citizen after moving to Texas, he is ineligible for the office of United States senator, even though he was elected to that office in 2012, a mere 7 years after his father finally got around to become a citizen of the United States. . Since he renounced his Canadian citizenship is August of 2013, he technically isn't a citizen of ANY country.

The requirements to be a United States President pretty clear cut:

No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.

Even before the United States became a country, the land from “sea to shining sea” has had a complicated relationship with its immigrants, including a man named Graham Nash, who wrote a song about his experience as an immigrant in 1972.

Twitter is an online social networking service that was started in 2006. As of May of 2015, the service had 500 million users, including Queen Elizabeth, who sent her first tweet on October 24, 2014.

So far, I have resisted the temptation to tweet other people, but recently became aware of a tweet that reminded us that Steve Jobs was the son of a Syrian immigrant.

Steve Jobs was conceived in Syria in 1954, when his Syrian father and American mother vacationed there for the entire summer. Jobs biological father was a brilliant man, but his maternal grandfather hated him because he was a Muslim (sound familiar?). Since Job’s father and mother were not allowed to marry, and unwed motherhood was still frowned upon in this country, she moved to San Francisco, and gave her baby away in adoption proceedings.

Job’s adopted father, Paul Jobs, grew up on a farm in Germantown, Wisconsin, but later moved to Mountain View, California in 1961. Mountain View, incidentally, is the location of the headquarters of Google, which happened to be started by a Russian immigrant named Sergey Brin and an American named Larry Page. The currently technology CEO for Google is an immigrant from India named Sundar Pichai.

Although the firm started by Jobs (Apple) is the most valuable company in the entire world, with a capitalization of over $700 billion, Google (at a market capitalization of 336 billion) is still a pretty respectable company.

Paul Jobs and his wife Clara never attended college, and Jobs himself (like Mark Zuckerberg) never completed his college career. Zuckerberg, incidentally, was raised Jewish, but has since become an atheist.

The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, ALSO never graduated from Harvard, but his “alma mater” eventually awarded him with an honorary degree.

Like his adopted father, Jobs’ biological father (Adulfattah Jandali) also spent some time in Wisconsin, when he pursued a PhD in political science at the University of Wisconsin. While attending school there, he was a teaching assistant to Joanne Carole Schweible, who would ultimately give birth to his son.

AS you are probably aware, Steve Jobs founded both Apple and NexTInc., and was one of the primary funders of Pixar, Inc.

The current CEO of Apple, Tim Cook, announced that he was gay in 2014.

Before Jobs married his wife Laurene in 1991, he and his high school girlfriend Chrisanne BRENNAN became parents to a girl, who they named Lisa. The Lisa computer, incidentally, eventually became one of the products offered by Apple.

Steve Jobs was raised in the Lutheran faith, but eventually converted to Zen Buddhism.

There are far too many Neanderthals in this country who feel that immigrants don’t contribute anything to our society, and there are also a lot of folks who looks askance at people who don’t practice their own particular religion.

There are ALSO a lot folks who look down on people who don’t have a college degree, or who have a different sexual orientation.

The examples listed above show how foolish those ideas are.

Donald Trump never spent ANY time in the military, but felt that his military-themed private college was as tough as Vietnam.

If he actually had had the balls to join the military, he most likely would have joined the Navy, since “anchors, away!” seems to be one of his main talking point these days.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015


Way back in 1977, one of the first miniseries in America was aired on ABC. Titled “Roots”, it was based on Alex Hailey’s 1976 novel by the same title. It won numerous awards, and inspired a slew of shows that mimicked the miniseries format.

As we all get older, we tend to make more interested in our family history, which is one of the reasons that my family and I retraced our parents’ 1971 trip to Ireland (the home of my ancestors) in 1999.

On this day in 1946, Laurence Joseph Brennan and Anna Mae Stenson got married, and a roughly a year later, I came into the world. The fact that the event occurred 69 years ago makes me feel just a little bit older, and was reinforced by the fact that I finally had to write “white” as my hair color when we recently updated our drivers licenses.

Whether we like it or not, we all BECOME our parents at some point in time, at least to a degree. Both my wife and I recognize the fact that we have inherited at least some characteristics of our parents, and we also have noticed that our children have ALSO inherited some of those characteristics as well.

Having been exposed to LOTS of children in our jobs working for the public school system, we have become aware of the fact that there are a LOT of dysfunctional families in America, which make my wife and I very grateful that we both came from families that had good, substantial roots. Sharon and I also tried to provide a solid background for our kids, who somehow have seemed to turn out OK. However, both of them are exposed to troubled members of society on a daily basis, so having a good background has helped them maintain their sanity - at least on most days.

I’ve already published numerous articles about both of my parents and other members of my family, which you can read at the links below:

a Hell of a bicycle ride

do you know what your wife is up to?

tiptoe through the tulips

I miss Dan Fogelberg

this story is for the birds

what in the world is a shillelagh?

get outta my way!

north to Alaska

the green, green grass of home

the little girl with the big brown eyes

October 6, 1972

do you believe in ghosts?

my humble origins

how much does a ruby cost?

As a result, you should have a pretty good idea of my roots. Although my thoughts on a variety of topics will continue to live long after my demise, at least in electronic form, the epitaph that I’d like to be remembered by is the phrase that my cousin Jean uttered at my dad’s funeral in 1994:

“ you know, he was a really good guy”.