Thursday, June 30, 2011

State Government Can Shut Down, But Family? Never

The state government is about to shut down. The politicians keep using the family budget at the kitchen table image.

In honor of the looming shutdown and in the spirit of the times, I’m going to call the family together tonight—Democrats, Republicans, and Independents—all of us—to make a few cuts and look for ways to increase revenue,

My wife and I will propose we stock fewer treats like popsicles and ice cream bars in the freezer. We’ll float the idea of a gasoline conservation program too. You know—fewer rides to the mall and to friends’ homes. We’ll encourage alternate forms of transportation, including walking and bicycling as well.

The fourteen year old wants to be a lawyer when he grows up. He’ll oppose the reduction in treats, and suggest we conserve gasoline by having him mow the yard less often—without a correlating reduction in allowance, of course.

He may even introduce an expert witness—his buddy from down the block, who is in no small part responsible for our excessive spending on popsicles and ice cream bars in the first place.

His buddy will testify that activities like mowing, and walking or biking to the mall are both unsafe and nerdy.

Our son will then close by pointing out that mowing, walking and biking burn calories, leading to even higher rates of popsicle and ice cream bar consumption.

We will roll our eyes, sigh, and turn to the older kids—the ones who drive already—and suggest they pay for their own gasoline. They will whine and cry as if we were suggesting they pay 90 percent capitol gains tax. Especially our son the Ron Paul Libertarian

And so it will go, back and forth, cut spending, raise revenues. Right there at the kitchen table. At some point, someone—my guess is the fourteen-year-old’s buddy—will get up, go to the freezer and return with popsicles and ice cream bars for everyone—popsicles and ice cream bars he didn’t pay for.

Talks will break off around ten o’clock. No deal will be struck and we’ll all go to bed to sleep secure in the knowledge that unlike Minnesota, the family can not and will not simply shut down.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Graduation Open House

Sometime late this afternoon, my wife and I will get in the car and drive over to a high school graduation open house for the daughter of a couple of old friends of ours.

The house itself won’t be open. The party will be in the back yard. We’ll walk up the driveway, through the garage they cleaned specially for the occasion, and out the back door to the patio.

And there they will be—our old friend’s people—talking pleasantly, munching open house food, renewing the once-removed friendships we’ve all established with one another at weddings and birthdays, anniversaries, Super Bowl parties, and other occasions like this one over the years.

There ought to be a name for the relationships we have with our old friends’ other old friends—with their neighbors, and in-laws and aging high school pals and college roommates. With all the nice-enough people living their lives parallel to ours—people in the middle distance we’ve come to kind of know.

What should we call them? Step-friends? Friends once removed? Friends in-law?

This afternoon on the patio, we’ll all catch up with one another. We’ll hear kid news (good and bad)—and talk home improvement projects, aging parents, yoga classes, bike trails, and Lord-only-knows what else.

This is the rich, loamy soil in which life in Minnesota is rooted. We’ve built a state-wide self help group and support network out of relationships like these. There may be six degrees of separation elsewhere, but around here, there’s only this network of old friend’s old friends. And even an anti-social old guy like me will come out of his shell and mingle for a while.

The graduate will do her best to mingle too. Then her own friends will show up and the party will split into two factions—young and old.

At some point, my wife and I will slip out and head home, feeling comfortably reassured. Life will be proceeding apace for these two old friend’s and their group of old friends.

And this fall, when the graduate goes off to school, she will no doubt meet people who will become her own old friends and populate a lifetime of events like this for her—whether she cleans up the garage or not.

Old Barns

Maybe it’s spring, or maybe I’ve turned another one of those middle-aged corners, but I’ve been feeling a little blue about Minnesota’s old dairy barns lately. They seem to be on the way out, and it’s a shame.

You know the kind I’m talking about: Big old time barns with room for the whole herd downstairs and room for a winter’s worth of hay up above.

I’ll be out in the country, driving somewhere, and I’ll come over a rise, and there it will be—another swaybacked eighty-plus year old behemoth. Rotting. Paint peeling. Hay mow doors hanging on broken hinges. The whole structure ten years beyond repair and falling in on itself. And a little piece of my heart will fall in on itself too.

There was a time when the landscape was dotted with barns like these. And silos… And maybe a crossroads church or a two room schoolhouse or a small town water tower on the horizon. Now this.

Five generations of some family farmed out of that barn. It was morning chores, evening chores, with a full day’s work in between, day after day, year after year, decade after decade.

Lord-only-knows how many generations of cows it housed, but twenty-plus generations of barn cats came and went. Not house cats. Barn cats. Scuffed up, mean, half-wild things. Cats that scared the family dog. They kept the local rodent population under control, though—in exchange for a pan of fresh-from-the-cow milk now and then.

I can’t drive by an old barn without thinking of all the farm reports and milking time polka music that came over the five tube AM radio that sat on the milk room window sill—music and news from the small town radio station ten miles off. It was always the same station. Day after day, year after year, decade after decade, the radio dial never changed.

The old barns are disappearing now. It’s the end of an era, I suppose—just another in a long list of inevitable changes. Going the way of our old sports stadiums. It’s cheaper to build new than it is to maintain them.

I’m going to miss them.

It’s spring, though. The section roads are less icy and more drivable. Think I’ll grab a handful of polka CDs and head out to say good bye one more time.