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Moment in Time
A Moment in Time is a regular feature of our monthly newsletter. This column was initiated in the September, 2013 issue, being created to serve as a forum for our members’ writings: short stories, memoir, poems or essays. Sometimes the author tells the story, and another person writes it up for the printed version. All previous “Moments in Time” will be found in the archived newsletters under the “Newsletter” tab.
Here is the full version of the Moment in Time published in the July 2015 newsletter.
Truck n’ Trooper
By Paul Kluge
A rip-roaring drama unfolded in my space while driving back to Northfield from the east recently. I’m coming across on I-90 and already into the magnificent views of the Mississippi River valley, only a few miles from the state line. I see an unmarked Wisconsin State Trooper in a median turnaround, and he’s pointed my way. Not a comfort feeling. As soon as I go by he pulls out and a little more than slowly he creeps up behind me. I’m in the slow lane and only 5 over but I manage to trim it down just a little from there—hardly noticeable. Ha! He remains behind me. I grip the steering wheel a little tighter; what is this all about?
Most of the traffic around me is aware of Smokey’s presence and react, like me, with some defensiveness. But not so an 18-wheeler loaded with lumber, building trusses I believe, that hang out a ways behind the trailer. I had passed this Truss-Boy on a recent uphill climb where he wasn’t able to tandem me and my low-mileage 1998 Dodge Stratus. But now the big truck has picked up steam and is rolling along in the fast lane, passing everything in sight, including the ‘unmarked’ behind me. Hey! It’s easy to miss an unmarked from a distance, but close up you can’t help but see the obvious array of antennas, that is if you’re conscious and have eyes. From side-by-side on the freeway, as the truck was, the interior police equipment is unmistakable. Still, Truss-Boy continues to pass the State Trooper.
All this is happening behind me, but closely behind me. Fortunate for me, the old Stratus has good side mirrors and I do not miss much. The trooper now signals and pulls in behind the 18-wheeler. I am relieved. It is now confirmed that he’s not tailing me or my guilty conscious. When I see the trooper’s colored lights begin their merry dance for Truss-Boy, I’m dancing a jig of relief in my mind and in time with the flashes. I slow a little and pull to the right. Truck and trooper fly by. Truss-Boy does not seem to be slowing. Not even a little. If anything, he’s speeding up. Trooper gives him the benefit of the doubt, and the unmarked flirts with the left shoulder behind the truck, presumably so the driver can see him and his hysterical lights. No response. Sirens and lights; it’s getting more exciting now and I’m back up to highway speed and behind it all. Twice the trooper literally pulls onto the left shoulder. Now he’s flirting with the path between truck and guardrail. The narrow dirt shoulder, both times, test the trooper’s nerves and vehicle stability, and both times the dark car does what we boomers called a shitty, a quivering of the car’s rear, this on the irregular shoulder surface. Both times the trooper quickly backs off and regains control close behind Truss-Boy. No sign of truck slowing. With a steady stream of traffic in the right lane, the trooper is reluctant to pass there, and instead pulls over just enough to display his authority to Truss-Boy’s right-side mirrors. No response, and only a couple miles from there to the state line.
Somewhere here it occurs to me that Truss-Boy is making a run for the Minnesota state line, just ahead. I have a front row seat, almost literally. Can’t the trooper, in pursuit, follow him into Minnesota, I’m thinking? Like they say on TV, “I’m no lawyer, but ….” or is it, “I’m no scientist, but . . . ?”
About then the right lane opens up and said trooper “hauls ass,” which we say to this day! Up the slow lane in a heartbeat and, believe it or not, pulls directly in front of run-away Truss-Boy. I could not see, from my view, if the trooper applied brakes or not, but he definitely put his personal well-being on the line for a lousy load of trusses. I remained behind them as long as I could, but the truck then finally crossed over the right lane and pulled to a stop on the right shoulder with the trooper car yet on his front bumper. Scant moments later the Stratus and I lost sight of our shared highway drama and sailed into the valley beauty on the Minnesota side, a calming change of scenery.
God bless State Troopers, everywhere! Thanks, guys and gals. We’re on your side—almost all of us.
Here is the full version of the Moment in Time published in the June 2015 newsletter.
The Tombstone Tourist
Jeff M. Sauve
Admittedly I have a grave addiction to visiting cemeteries. Those who enjoy this innocent pastime are known as or “gravers” or “tombstone tourists.” As an avid fan of history personally and professionally as an archivist at St. Olaf College, the historical past is very much a part of my life. In headstones I see stories that not only reflect upon a person’s existence, but also the development of the local community.
When I was a child, my grandparents lived near Rosehill Cemetery off a gravel county road near Mentor, Polk County, Minnesota. This place, nearly barren of trees, wedged between farm fields, holds several of my ancestors in perpetuity. Adjacent to the cemetery is an open field where my many cousins and I gathered yearly to play baseball. Striking a tombstone, whether a foul ball or home run, was considered an automatic out.
Within the cemetery was a small shed, presumably where a mower and tools were kept. But as children we peered with some trepidation through the dust-laden windows in hopes of witnessing a casket ready for burial. Death, for us, lurked in that darkened, cobwebby room, and not so much in the ever-present one-acre landscape of headstones.
Of course my Grandpa would tell the same-tireless joke as he drove by, “Guess how many people are dead in Rosehill?” The young passengers yelled out such numbers as 42, 109, 87 … but the kindly World War I veteran with chewing tobacco stains around the corner of his mouth sitting behind the wheel laughed as he blurted, “Why all of them of course!”
Nowadays, I visit cemeteries to better understand monument architecture and symbolism employed. Collecting epitaphs has always been a hobby as well. Probably the most fascinating tombstone in the Northfield Cemetery is that of a Englishman, Sheridan Knowles Mackay, a “remittance man” who died in 1867 at the age of 34.
After doing a little research, I ran across a 1948 Northfield News clipping authored by Carleton College’s Dean of Men, Merrill E. Jarchow, regarding Mackay. Jarchow had located his obituary in The Farmer’s Union newspaper (St. Paul, Sept. 6, 1867): “The Northfield Recorder [specific newspaper issue unfortunately lost] published an account of the death of a well educated English gentleman named Sheridan K. Mackay, who had been staying in that village some weeks with the hope of reforming his habits of intemperance. A saloon keeper induced him to break his pledge, and continued to furnish him liquor until he became delirious, in which condition he wandered off, and was found dead in the woods between that place and Dundas.”
Mackay’s white stone cross, unique in design for its time, has on both the front and back elaborate inscriptions weathered to the point of being indecipherable. The newspaper clipping provided the following detail on the inscriptions:
Front: Sacred to the memory of Sheridan Knowles Mackay, barrister at law, Inner Temple, London. Born in Liverpool 1833, died at Northfield Aug. 6, 1867.
Back: Here he lies peacefully among strangers until the resurrection, when all earthy divisions will be unknown. As there is but one shepherd, so there is but one sheep fold.
Since 1948 when the article was written, the tombstone was cemented at the base, and unfortunately the repairs cover the most telling line of the inscription, but noted in the Jarchow’s clipping: Life’s fitful fever’s o’er.
To learn more about Mackay and some of the other interesting headstones in the cemetery, come to my lively and engaging free talk, “The Tombstone Tourist Visits the Northfield Cemetery,” on June 25, 6:30 p.m. at the Northfield Historical Society.
* Note that Jarchow defined a “Remittance man” as: “A good many young Englishmen given to wild and intemperate habits were sent to the United States in the middle of the 19th century in the hope of reforming them. Such may have been the case with Mackay.”
Here is the full version of the Moment in Time published in the May 2015 newsletter.
Citizen Maldonado: An American Odyssey ©
As told by Efren Maldonado
Written by Steven James Beto
My father brought our family up from Mexico to the United States in 1955 to be migrant farm workers. My oldest brother and sister stayed back in Mexico to be with our grandmother. We began our journey every March from our home base in McAllen, Texas, to the sugar beets in Utah, and then to Washington and Idaho. My second oldest brother drove one car, and my father drove another. We needed the space to carry me and my two brothers and three sisters, my mother and my father, blankets, food, things like that. My father did not know how to speak English, so he depended on my older brother to be our guide and to communicate with the foreman on the job. We called my brother, El Jefe, which means ‘the boss.’
These were the days before antifreeze and we had to carry water in canvas bags to fill the radiators. If we broke down, everyone got out and helped. In our culture, there is no difference between men and women. Everyone has a job. Everyone worked. My sisters could do it all. Even on farms where they wanted only men, my sisters were accepted as capable. On the road, we just expected to have problems, and as a family we fixed them and carried on. We never had a serious problem where we were held back. No.
Typical Living Quarters
When we arrived in Utah, the sugar beets were just coming up and our job was to hoe and to weed the rows. The idea was to set the plants about six inches apart. My family spread out along the rows and worked our way down the field. At 7 years old, I worked alongside my father; my sisters and brothers worked the other rows. Mother washed the clothes and cooked our food. At each farm, we lived in a one
room hut made with two-by-fours and unpainted plywood. Some had windows, others not, and some huts had a canvas wrap instead of plywood. On one end was the entrance; the stove was on the other end. In the middle we had a table and chairs, but no other furniture. We slept on concrete floors and placed buckets around to catch rain dripping from the roof. There was always an outside outhouse and a place where we could carry pails of water and take our bath. Mother took care of all that.
We stayed at each farm about a month and a half. In the mornings, we worked for a few hours and then I got dressed and went to school. You just go to class and start wherever they are and keep doing until you have to move to the next farm. After awhile you get used to it. I went to five different schools during the year that way. There was a school in Washington where I was in third grade, but they put me in fourth grade because I was advanced. When we went back to McAllen though, I was put back in third grade. When we finished our job, we moved on to another school, and to another farm.
Tying the Hops
Next one we go to Washington, and there we work on the hops. The idea is when the plant starts to sprout, you put a stake next to the plant and maul it down. My sisters did that; that’s the way we worked. Then a tractor would lift my brother up in a basket maybe 15 feet high where the wires are, and he goes to each plant and ties two ropes to the wires and drops them down to the ground where my sisters tie them to the stake in the shape of a ‘V.’ Then they attach the hop sprouts to the ropes so they can climb up high— and the tractor keeps moving so you have to work fast.
Hops in Bloom
In late August, we come back to this farm, and it is so hot then! The plants are so high and thick you cannot see around. The hops are full of flowers and that is what they are after. You walk in there and cut off the bottom ropes so the hops are just hanging from the wire up on top. When the truck moves between the rows, my brother cuts the ropes from above and the hops fall inside the truck. When the truck gets full, they take the hops to the warehouse for processing. In all of this, you have to be careful. I’ll tell you not only that, but the vines are sharp! If they hit you, they cut you!
After we do the hops, we move up north more in Washington to do the cucumbers. Here they want us to harvest the small ones, about four inches long, for pickles. What we do is, we straddle the bushes with one foot on either side and dig through to find the ones you want and put them in a bucket. The big ones you cut off to leave the vines fresh to grow more. That’s how we did it then; I don’t know what they do now. But you know, I was about six or seven years old, and I was working right next to my father. I tell you even now, the best times of my life, I go back to those. People say it was hard, it was cruel. No! It was just togetherness. It was beautiful.
After the cucumbers, we go to strawberries. What you do there is you get down and work your way up the row. You pick on one side, and then the other, back and forth on hands and knees, and someone is in the next row over. We have a little cart with us and on top we have twelve small baskets—those little ones, you know? And, every one of those filled baskets was fifty cents! We got paid as a family for piece work; my brother dealt with the paymaster and gave my father the money. One thing we never do, and we never do in my family, is argue about money. It was never “his money,” “my money.” If we wanted something, we went to my mother or my father. They were the bank.
In October, our last farm in Idaho, we picked potatoes. In October there could be snow, and if there was snow, you still have to pick. It is the one that I remember most because it was cold, I mean, we couldn’t even feel our hands. We had cotton gloves, but they didn’t help at all. The tractor would come by and dig up the potatoes into a mound, and we would sift through the wet dirt to grab out the potatoes. You can see the potatoes, and some of them you can’t see. We have to dig through the soil to get them. And, that’s Idaho; that ends our year, and we go back to McAllen, Texas.
When I got to be about sixteen, we stopped going to the farms because our family started getting married and breaking up. When I got out of school for the summer, I went to work in the cannery with my father and my brother. I worked seven days a week 7 a.m. to midnight or 1 o’clock, except Sunday only half a day. I didn’t work that much during the school year; I just went to school. Summer was my work time.
Around that time, my brother wanted to box, but he was already older and he had to work. I asked my brother questions about it. I told him I was interested, so he said he would go down to Reynosa, to find me a manager. “But, that’s in Mexico,” I said.
“Sure,” he said, “but if you love it, it will be no problem. You have to pay tolls when you cross the border, but I will support you.” My brother has always been my greatest support.
My father told me one time before I started, he said, “Do you want to box?” I said, yes. He said, “I want you to decide this. I want you to think about it before you decide. You make a choice, you keep it. No excuses, no I’m tired, no I’m hurt, no I don’t want to today, none of that. You either commit, or you don’t even start.” So, I commit, and there were no buts.
El Jefe found a manager for me in Reynosa named Lupe Garcia, a good man, very patient. Lupe had a small training facility like a garage with an uneven dirt floor. The sparing ring had four wooden posts connected by thick wires covered with hoses used for the ropes. There was a shower—cold water all the time! I just remember that because even in winter, we had to shower in cold water. Everything else we had to improvise.
I was responsible for my running; running is key to everything. Running gives you oxygen, keeps you going. All your learning can’t be done if you are not in shape; you gotta have your breath. I was responsible for that, and I was very loyal to my sport. When you first come in you just loosen up, shake all around just to loosen your whole body up. Then you get two rounds of shadow boxing. After that, you go two rounds with the heavy bag. I had a fight every month. When I started, I weighed a hundred and ninety pounds. They wanted me at a hundred and forty five so they worked me hard. Most of the guys were smaller than me, and because they were so fast they just beat the heck out of me! My mouth was always cut up, my body bruised and sore.
Lupe had about ten guys boxing there. My first fight, I stopped the guy, and then I had a second fight, and I knocked him out too, and the next fight I knocked him out. My seventh fight was a ten round fight which doesn’t happen often. I knocked out all the seven guys before.
Plaza de Toro
I had my greatest moment in Mexico; I fought in Plaza de Toro, a bullfighting arena. There were two world champions coming to box that’s why they used the Plaza. They knew that the champions would bring a lot of people. There were three main events, and I was the third. The main event was the welter weight champion of the world called Jose Napoles; they called him ‘Montequilla,’ which means butter, because he was so smooth. I was fighting Reuben Rivera, The fourth ranked in Mexico. They called him ‘the gentleman,’ El Caballero. It was to be my eighth fight total; this guy had about 49 fights professional. My referee was Sugar Ramos, a retired feather weight champion of the world. I was so excited!
I fought him for two and a half rounds, and he was really good. Finally, in the middle of the third round, I started getting to him—left, right, left. I knocked the spit out of his mouth, and he stumbled back into his corner as the bell rang. In the fourth round, I was beginning to hit him more, and then the old trick came out. He pushed his thumb into my eye; it’s a trick that they know. He poked my eye and I couldn’t see anything, so they stopped the fight and he won. He was not a gentleman that day, but what I have is this, he never knocked me down.
In 1969, I got married and we moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, and there, I became a citizen of the United States! I am so proud of that! America gives so many opportunities and all you have to do is accept; it is the best place in the world. I started working in the stockyards and then I became a guard at Stillwater State Prison. They trained me for twelve weeks to be the night watchman in the tower where basically nothing happens, you just sit there for eight hours. I tell you, the worst kind of work is no work at all. One night, I was looking up at the stars and I started to cry big tears. I got down on my knees and raised my hands to God, and I prayed, please, God. I am 42 years old. Is this the end of my life? Help me find something I can do. Help me find something that makes me proud.
Stillwater Prison Tower
I started thinking and writing, asking God every day, and suddenly He came to my rescue. These were the days that Cuba sent prisoners to us and we had a large population of prisoners who spoke only Spanish, and suddenly I knew that I could be a trainer! I could teach my fellow prison guards how to speak Spanish enough to get by. I contacted the director of trainers and she said my idea was interesting. Five days later, she asked me to put a proposal together, so I did that; I just found creation! Soon, I taught my first class, and then another. I found something was happening, see? I was doing what I wanted to be doing!
At that time there were three guards that had been there for years, they didn’t like what happened. They called me names; they swore at me, they pushed me around. They tried to scare the heck out of me. “You are just a wet-back,” they said. My thing was not to get upset, not to get mad, but to understand them.
I said, “I’m sorry that you feel that way, but it’s an opportunity and I can’t let it go.”
I continued to do the job, and after a few months, the director of trainers accepted a new position with the State of Minnesota in the Department of Employee Relations. She contacted me and told me that she had a position with her if I wanted it. It made me so happy! Before I left, they had an all day party for me at the prison, and those three guys that pushed me around came and shook my hand and said, “Efren, we are really sorry about what happened, but we wish you the best. You’re a good man.” A lot of people that day came and told me that, and I don’t remember who they were. But, I remember those three guys because I knew they meant it.
After my retirement, my wife told me that she wanted to work with disabled veterans and children. She asked me for a small ranch with horses, and I’m going to get it for her. So, I’m back, oh yeah, I’m back! Now I travel around the state to many cities giving motivational speeches. I have gone to Denver, Colorado, and soon to Florida, essentially going back to what I knew as a child, being a migrant worker, and I love it.
I talk about principles, and how sometimes, we don’t know how to use them. It is not easy to change from who you are and what you have done in the past. You have to think about others. I call it, love. A principle is, you till the ground, you plant, you water, you fertilize, you weed, you caress, you harvest. It is not about right now. It is a process of action, nurturing, and caring. In order to make anything happen, we have to change ourselves. Anytime that you blame, or say “I can’t,” you are saying, “I am powerless.” When you do that, you have no capability. My purpose is to help people find the power and potential in themselves.