About the Spirit

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This blog started out with "about me" in the title. My whole life has been "about me". I hope that the entries that I make will be about the Spirit and how He has changed my life because it has always been about Him and how He works through us.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'll start this as I was leaving from the Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Like I've written in a previous blog I left Baltimore alone. No one was there to see me off because Dad was pissed off that I was leaving and no one crossed my Dad, so it was pretty lonely and lets just say that I was a more then a little apprehensive about my new life. All I knew at that time was that I needed a change, a change that would get me out of the slums, away from the no-where jobs and living from pay check to pay check. Also, I needed to find out who I was. Am I someone "different" that could change his station in life or am I just another slum kid just fooling himself and like my Dad said during our last conversation, only a kid thinking that I was becoming a man, a man that could change his life but will be rejected by the outside only to return to the slums to live out my life thinking of things that could have been?
I was scared to death and it would have been so easy just to turn around and run for home where my Dad, with a knowing smile, would have been so consoling as he plotted his next move to get me a job and start charging me rent just like he did with all my sisters. I had already had experience with that. I remembered my first job as a part time stock boy at Taubman's Department Store on Pratt Street. I made twenty five dollars every two weeks and Dad took twenty of it for "rent". I was fifteen years old. I had no problem with giving my money to my family but I knew that Dad was going to use it for gambling and didn't see why I had to pay for that. Thinking of the consequences of failing in my attempt to change my life spurred me on and I got on the plane. It was a jet which was unusual for 1961 and of course it was the first time I'd ever been on a plane. I remember thinking to myself, see your life's changing already. And change it did...

If I remember correctly it took three hours to get to Chicago and it was evening before we got to the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Waukhegen, Illinois... Navy Boot Camp! After arriving I, along with about fifty other guys were herded into an auditorium were we were all sworn into the U.S. military plus we signed an Oath of Allegiance. After that we were given speeches by several high ranking Naval Officers advising us of the honor and integrity of the Navy plus we got a history of the battles that the Navy had won and the tragedies and lessons learned on the battles that were loss. After that it was getting close to taps so we were told to take all our valuables and place them under our pillows for safe keeping. We did as we were told and after reveille in the morning we found that someone had reached under our pillows and stole everything of value...so much for honor and integrity!

Our first full day in boot camp started with a great meal in a chow hall the size if Delaware. After that we got a sea bag and filled it with our first issue of Navy uniforms. We were taken into a hall where we were told to strip off our old clothes and put them in a box to be mailed home. We each had to stand in a three foot square box that was painted on the floor. We put on our Navy work blues for the first time but not for long. We went to the barber shop where we all got every inch of our hair shaved off. As we were leaving guys that had been in the Navy about a week before us began to call us boots. We were divided into companies about thirty sailors per company then each company was given a barracks. after we assigned barracks and "racks"(bunks) we were told to strip down to our scivies and wash all our new uniforms because the Navy believes that all new clothes are considered unclean. The hardest thing to get clean is the white hat. Soap gives it a dull color and you must keep washing and rinsing until it is as white as snow which can take all day.

The next several months was pure hell with getting up at f
our thirty in the morning for inspection which consisted of your uniform your hygiene and finally your barracks. Every morning one of us would be singled out to for being a scrounge and made to do fifty pushups in front of everyone. If the barracks was dirty everything was thrown out into the middle of the floor from your racks and lockers. Not just the sailor that did something wrong but EVERYONE'S locker and rack. During the day we went to class to learn the basics of Navy life, went to physical training, and marched or if we were out of formation ran everywhere we went.

I was just about finished my second month of basic when I got sick. We were drying our clothes in an indoor drying room and the temperature
was always about ninety degrees. I had just stepped in from the outside and the next thing I knew I woke up in the emergency room. I stayed in the hospital for a week and no one ever told me what was wrong. All I know is that when I left they wanted to draw some blood and took me in a room where about twenty sailors were getting blood drawn. The doctor took one look at me and waived the blood test. He told me that I was too under weight to take blood. I know that when I got to boot camp they took my weight and I weighed 112 lbs. when I left boot camp it was 130. Our final week in boot camp was called "service week". For the whole week we had to work at different areas of the base doing things that no one else wanted to do like working on the mess decks (kitchen). I'll never forget the day the gave us our assignments. Everyone in my company got the mess decks, except me. I was told that I was going to be the Master At Arms of the Reserve Battalion on the base. For the whole week I made coffee for the Officers in the morning and sat behind a desk as reserve boots camp into my office and had to salute me as they were given their assignments.

At first I was told that I would have to stay in boot
camp for another week to make up for the week I was sick, but they changed their minds and I graduated with my company.

I waited for my name to be called on our fin
al day in boot camp. We were being told where our first duty station was going to be and none of us had any idea as to where we were going. Guys were going all over the world on ships and land bases. My name came up and I was going to a mine sweeper base in Charleston South Carolina.

While I was in boot camp I took a battery of tests to discover what my strengths were and because they were in the engineering realm I was classified as a fireman apprentice.I was assigned to the refrigeration unit and spent the day repairing worn out electric motors from the sweepers. Note of interest: All mine sweepers had wooded hulls because most mines were magnetic. While I was in Charleston I took up karate but didn't get get to far because I was transferred.

There were several South Korean sweepers in port while I was there and there was a story going around the base concerning one of them. It seems that the Korean sailors went on liberty while they were in port and the next day the Charleston police showed up with a female. The female made a report that she was raped by one of the sailors and the police wanted to see all the sailors with the female to see if she could pick him out. All the sailors lined up and
the lady walked up to one and said "that's him!" The police wanted to take the sailor in custody but the Korean Captain refused and asked the police to leave his ship. The police left the ship and the ship immediately left port and went to sea. Later that night the ship returned and the captain called the police back to the ship. When they got there the captain showed them the dead body of the accused sailor. They went to sea and hung him!

I really liked South Carolina. It was close to Florida and there were times when I took weekend excursions to the beaches. But, surprise, surprise! I got transfer orders. I was being transferred to Norfolk, Virginia aboard the USS-Borie which is moored in the Portsmouth Naval Station. I had two weeks to get there and went home and told everyone the good news. I was going aboard a ship and I would be closer to home.

After my leave I reported to the base commander directed me and one other sailor to the pier where the Borie was located. We were excited to get to the ship where we were sure we would be spending the next three and a half years.

I was shocked as I stood on the pier looking at my ship. The other sailor an
d myself dropped our seabags and stared at the ship. It didn't look like a ship. Everything from the main deck and above were gone. Everything was taken off to either be refurbished or replaced. The ship was going through what the Navy calls a FRAM which stands for Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization. She all new equipment and a flight deck.

There were a bunch of sailors aboard the ship yelling at us, welcoming us aboard and asking us where we were from. ect. We could hear the ding, ding, ding of the crane as it headed toward us on it's tracks as it took some old parts off the ship. As it neared the sailors screamed even louder then suddenly they burst out laughing and returned to work completely ignoring us. We turned to pick up our seabags and found that the crane had run over the other sailor's seabag cutting it completely in half. The picture at the right is the Borie in drydock as she was getting
her hull painted. The Borie spent most of her time during repair in drydock. Click on the picture for a better view. Notice the big cranes on either side of the dock and the gang plank that we had to go up and down all day everyday until she was seaworthy. I spent most of my time as a fire watch watching the welders and making sure the sparks didn't cause a fire. After that I was assigned to the aft engine room and helped as machinists reconnected all the pumps and engine. There were yard workers that lagged all the piping with asbestos as all the rest of us were working of the power plant. Asbestos was in the air everywhere and to this day I don't know why I didn't get cancer, it was on everyone.
I'll continue this with a new entry called the USS Borie DD-704

USS Borie DD-704

After about six months in Portsmouth we finally went to sea in I think it was June 1962. Our first "cruise" was with the families of all the sailors aboard. We just took a short trip around the harbor. The water was as calm as it could be and resembled a table top as we dropped the last mooring line in the water and the captain ordered all ahead one third. We weren't out five minutes and I got sea sick. I was so sick...I didn't think I would ever be able to sail and that's all I wanted to do. I didn't realize at the time that the Navy didn't care how my tummy was feeling, I was going to sea even if I had to puke my way across the Atlantic.

After about a week of taking on stores (food) and ammo we headed for Guantanamo (Gitmo) for what the Navy cal
ls a "shake down" cruise. Which in civilian terms means that we were going to go through a lot of training with little sleep in the heat of the Caribbean in the middle of summer. I didn't think it was going to be hard but it was like going through boot camp again. This time however, it was a lot of "what ifs" training...what if the ship was sinking, what would you do? what if the engine room took a torpedo what would you do? That kind of stuff. Most of the old salts knew what was going on and it didn't take us long to learn what our jobs were during war. I was very disheartening however when you go through all that training and a wisened sailor who fought in the second world war says that most destroyers (tincans) sank within a minute of being struck by a bomb and if a torpedo struck the engine room you had better make sure your life insurance was caught up because you will never make it out alive. Preparing for a nuclear attack was the worst. The engine rooms were already 120 degrees and you had to shut off all the vents. We took salts tablets to keep from dehydrating and some of us passed out and had to be dragged topside to get fresh air.

We spent some time shooting our five inch guns at targets that were painted on an island. They never told us when they were going to shoot them off so we were taken by surprise and didn't have time to protect our ears. Some of us lost hearing for several minutes which led to hearing loss later in life.

After getting all that training we headed h
ome to Norfolk were we all went on leave before leaving for the Mediterranean Sea. I was looking forward to the cruise except for the rough seas. Some of the guys told me that it could get so rough that the waves could get twenty feet high and I, who gets sea sick standing of a pier, wasn't looking forward to it.

We were a part of a fleet that was leaving Norfolk and I'm not sure how many ships were in the fleet but I know it was over fifty. I was told it takes seven days to get across the Atlantic. After we were out for a couple of days I became a little apprehensive knowing that we were out there alone and had to depend on each other. We learned what it meant to have someone depend on you and sometimes with their very survival. I was standing on the main deck one day looking over the side when one of the older guys came up to me and said "don't worry we're only two miles from land...straight down!" Yeah, that made me feel just great.

Anyway, the thing that I fearing the most... a storm at sea, struck about five days out. It was a hurricane. It lasted for days. The ship was taking unbelievable rolls and had us literally walking on the bulkheads (walls) and trussing (tying) ourselves into our racks where we trying to get some rest. The old salts had a ball with this. Most of them weren't sick and would walk by you eating something that smelled and looked bad or would send the younger guys to the bilges to find out how high the water was. Once you saw and heard that water slouching from one side of the ship to the other you got sick all over again. Some of us were actually carrying a bucket around with us. You couldn't go outside because the ship was under water most of the time. Lines were strung outside so that the guys that had to could get around by hanging on to the line. Funny thing is we never saw another ship during the storm and the waves were something that you wouldn't think was possible. The storm followed us across the Atlantic and we never had any relief until we sailed through the Straights of Gibraltar. I'll never forget that morning. It went from violent seas to calm in a matter of minutes. We were below decks and ran outside for the first time in a week. The sea was beautiful with all the ships on the horizon and dolphins jumping in and out of the waves that was left by our ship.

The Med cruise was wonderful. Here's a list of
some of the ports we visited:

Catragena, Spain

Naples, Italy

Cannes, France

Bormes, France

I could go on and on posting pictures of the beautiful ports we visited but if I do that this blog entry would five pages long.

Here are all the rest of the ports visited the summer of 1962:

Toulon, France............................................... Gulfe Juan, France
Corfu, Greece ..................................................Tarento, Italy
Rhodes, Greece................................................Beirut, Lebanon
Panza, Italy .....................................................Pompeii, Italy
Serento, Italy ..................................................Gaeta, Italy
Rome, Italy .....................................................Vatican City
Palma, Mallorca .............................................Rota, Spain
Karachi, Pakistan.......................................... Suda Bay, Crete
Lido, Italy ......................................................Venice, Italy
Port Said, Egypt .............................................Port Suez, Egypt
Aden, Saudi Arabia .......................................Patras, Greece
Portsmouth, England ....................................Copenhagen, Denmark
Kiel Canal, Germany .....................................Turku, Finland

After we came home in October 1962 we were only in port for several weeks when we were called to sea once more...this time maybe...to war!

My next entry will be titled The Cuban Missile Crisis

Cuban Missile Crisis

After the Med Cruise and just about everyone was back from going home we began getting the ship ready for our next cruise. I was in the engine room and had a pump that had given us trouble on the cruise torn apart and laying on the deck. My first class came down and asked me how long it would take to put the pump repaired and put together. I told him that it was repaired and I was putting it together when he told me that I had to get it together as soon as possible. There was a sense of urgency in his voice that I never noticed before so I hurriedly got the pump together. We received a message over the ship's intercom that we had fifteen minutes to go on the pier, call our homes and tell our families that were we going to sea, didn't know where we were going and didn't know when we were coming back. Everyone scrambled to the phones on the pier. Every ship got the same message at the same time so the lines at the phones were a block long and I couldn't get to a phone. We looked toward the end of the pier because we knew there were phones on the base and found that the end of the pier had been blocked off by marines who wouldn't let anyone off. We ran back to the ship because time was getting short and we didn't know what to expect next. We knew that the U.S. had a running argument with Russia over Berlin and we all thought we were going to war.

It usually takes about an hour to get the main engines "lit off" (running) but this time we were ready to go to sea in half that time. Nothing was transmitted to us as we sailed out of Norfolk into the open sea...

We were going at "flank" speed (as fast as we could go) and none of us knew where we were going. About a half an hour out we received the speech that was given by President Kennedy in was the middle of October 1962. We knew where we were going, we were going to be a part of the blockade of Cuba and we knew that there were missiles on the island manned by the Russians pointed at the US and that there were more on the way. The Russians were sending a convoy of ships with missiles aboard and we were to stop them. We weren't part of the blockade...we were looking for subs. We were in open sea patrolling when suddenly we were again at flank speed. We headed to an unknown location. Scuttlebutt was that a Russian sub was spotted and because we had special sonar we were send to help surface her. We found the sub and with our sonar there was no way she was going to lose us. We followed her for days. Finally, she broke the surface and Borie sounded her horns. I was below deck shaving when I heard the horns and I knew what it meant. I ran topsides and stood with the rest of my shipmates as the sub surfaced in front of us. The sub never submerged after that it stayed afloat as we ran along side of her for two days. I'll never forget my fears as we tracked that sub while it tried to lose us. We had been at "general quarters" for a couple of days which means we had to stay at our battle stations until the threat was cleared. We had only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and an apple for all three meals with no sleep except for catnaps at our battle stations. I remembered all the stories of my shipmates that had been in war; It only took a few minutes for a destroyer to sink, during battle sailors with guns were placed at the hatches leading to the engine room to make sure that no one left the engine room which is the least protected area of the ship and if a torpedo doesn't kill you as it explodes through the hull then the six hundred degree super heated steam will. All these things passed through my, and all my friends, minds as we tracked the sub.

Suddenly we were at flank speed again leaving the sub behind as we head
ed south toward the Caribbean Sea. General Quarters were secure and we had a chance to get a good meal and to get some much needed rest. We were headed for the Panama Canal. We waited in the harbor as ship after ship of Marines came through the canal from San Diego. It was an invasion fleet. We were going to invade Cuba and we were ready. All of us new that if that happened then it was sure to be WWIII. We sailed toward Cuba with the troop carriers. I looked and found jeeps, tanks and all sorts of vehicles and weapons. As we sailed toward Cuba there was only one thing on our minds...subs. We knew were were equipped with the latest sonar gear so there had to be the possibility of Russian subs in the area. And as sudden as all this started...it was over. We and the Russians came to some kind of a deal and we were going home but not before a couple of days liberty in Kingston Jamaica. We went ashore with all those marines and it wasn't a pretty site. My buddy and me were involved in a brawl at one of the local bars with a few of those marines. My buddy had false upper teeth and was hit in the mouth and his teeth were forced down his throat. He lay there gagging as the fight was going on around us as I dug my fingers down his throat trying to retrieve those teeth. I got them out just in time to see the military police arrive and the brawl was over.
Since that time I've never liked marines.
My buddy was smaller the I was and the Jarhead picked him out to hit first. Let's just say they're not my kind of people. I received the above medals during my time in Cuba. The upper one is the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the blue and gold is the Navy Expeditionary Medal, The red and yellow with stripes is the National Defense Medal and the red white and blue one is the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.

The next segment is the Assassination of President Kennedy.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Long week

I don't know why I don't post more often but I do find it a good way to vent when things get to me and also it is a good way to share my feelings with those that I love.

I've been going around and around with the VA about possible kidney problems. I was told that they, my kidneys not the VA, have been producing protein above the normal level for the past three years and more tests were needed. Okay, so I get the tests done, not knowing if I had a problem but I was pretty concerned. I never heard anything back from the VA on the results. I was dragging for over a week not knowing if there was a problem and if there were, I didn't know if there was anything that could be done. Bummer!

Anyway, I started a new job at Caribou that same week and with a possible kidney problem and trying to get acclimated to a new job where I was the oldest by about forty years was...let's just say "disheartening".

Then something happened.

I went to the mall to a junior achievers mall project. I walked along the mall corridor as kids ran around me. They were divided between trying to sell their product, which they made themselves, or visiting their friends and goofing off during their rare visit to the mall. I saw Alaina sitting at her table taking her role as artist and entrepreneur very seriously. I looked toward the taco stand and saw her two brothers goofing off as they waited on their pizza. I walked toward them on "monster" legs. As I neared Sawyer, he started to scream and I mean scream: "No, grandpa no"! You know, I'm proud of my Swanson family. Everything they do, they do it together and I think that's wonderful. I turned back to Alaina and she tied a friendship bracelet around my right wrist. I, being the cop that I am, did a little investigating. I walked over to Sawyer and Jonnie and checked their right wrists. There were so many friendship bracelets around their wrists that I wondered how they got their arm washed. Did a little more investigating...their mom had just as many! I walked back to Alaina just as Grandma was getting her bracelet around her wrist. Boy am I in good company!

My long ordeal started on Thursday. I went to work as usual at 5 am and got off at around 11. Bible study started at 1 so it was a quick trip home to eat lunch then it was Mom and I back to Willmar. We also had a long Social Concerns meeting at St. Pat's and didn't get out of there until 9:30. Then it was up at 4 to start all over again. I was bushed! After work I went to Church and had to decide if I was going to the jail Ministry. I could have come up with many legitimate excuses on why I couldn't go, but as I was sitting in Church I looked down at my wrist and saw my Love bracelet. That's when I realized that my decision had already been made for me and I feeling fully energized headed for the jail.

These pass several months has been very discouraging for our Ministry because we've only got maybe one or two inmates come and the Parish Priests were thinking of discontinuing it. I had seven inmates attend this Friday and it was wonderful! It was very heart warming. I had one of the inmates burst out in tears and thanked me for coming. Several of the males actually told me that they missed me! They said that they were afraid that I wasn't coming back and then I met a jail poet he's going to put his poems on paper and I'll post them. He recited several of his poems and I was thanking God for giving the energy to be there...and then I looked down at my bracelet...and thanked Him...and thanked Him...and thanked Him...

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our Family III


I don't remember things like eggs or bacon during weekday breakfast. We had eggs but normally we just had them on a special occasion such as Christmas Or Easter (we had eggs...we never went to Church). Christmas and Easter were pretty big around our house. We always had eggs, sausage and a treat which the family called "dougdies". Mom would go to the store and buy hot roll mix then mix it up and let it rise overnight. The next morning she would break the dough into circular pieces about five inches wide and paper thin. She deep fried the dough in lard, then we ate them while they were still warm with Kings syrup which you could only get locally in the Baltimore area. Oh, it was wonderful and we could never get enough. We had to be pried from the table because Mom ran out of dough long before we ran out of appetite. I'm not sure that the "dougdy" recipe was something that just our family had thought of, I think that others made the same thing but named it something else although I've never seen nor heard of it anywhere else.
Basically, when it came to our cuisine we had a German background. I and most of my sibs love liver. I can remember going to school with liver sandwiches the day after we had it for supper. My schoolmates left the area when I broke out my lunch and no one offer to swap lunches. Mom fried the liver in lard with onions. Until I was an adult I didn't know you could have it any other way.
A little side story about liver. After we moved to Atwater I was asked if I wanted to go to the nutrition center (a place where seniors were assured of getting at least one good meal a day and NO I wasn't considered a senior at that point in my life). The seniors wanted to meet the new cop in town. Anyway, I walked into the center and I could smell the wonderful aroma of cooked liver. Needless to say...I got in front of the line! We were only allotted a couple of piece each and no matter what I did to persuade the cook to give me more, she won't waiver. I sat down at the first table after the food line and...and this is true...as each senior came by where I was sitting they each took their portion of liver and put it on my plate! I ate lunch at the center every "liver Wednesday" and the same ritual occurred.
Back to the story. Another thing which we ate a lot was sour kraut. We had it instead of potatoes and we (and I still do) loved it. Bruanswauger was a usual staple for school lunches and once again I did have to worry about anyone stealing mine. We always ate our sandwiches with mustard but once I became a cop I found a guy who ate in with mayonnaise...yuk!

Ya' can't from Baltimore and not love seafood. I can remember going crabbin' in the bay. I'll give you a lesson on how to crab like an inner city kid. First, you have to get a crab net. That's a net that looks a lot like a net you would use to land fish except for two important differences. One, the net was made of wire mesh which resembled chicken wire. Two, the net was attached to an extra long pole, I'll explain why these two differences are important as I continue my story. Next, you need to get some rotten meat. What we used to do is buy chicken wings and leave it out for a few days. Oh, and you need to buy some extra strong cord...okay lets go crabbin'! It would be nice if you had a boat but if you could afford to own a boat then you could probably be able to buy your crabs and not spend all night crabbin'. You can crab just about anywhere and old piers were best (unless you own a boat but we've already been through that!). You crab at night and it is always done better with a few six packs of beer. First you get some brave soul, probably the one who drank the most beer, and have him or her ( that's right, women crab too) tie a piece of rotten chicken to the end of the heavy cord. Throw the chicken into the bay, the piece you tied to the cord not the free pieces...if you throw the free pieces into the bay then you gotta go home because you've had too much to drink. Anyway, after you throw the chicken into the water you try to find the bottom by letting the cord hit and go slack. At this point you pull the chicken so it is just off the bottom. Now, you are ready to crab. Next, you have to find a "dipper" this is a person that is really fast with the net. Everyone in the party has a least one line in the water and the object is to watch the line until it starts to go straight out which means that a crab was nibbling on that dirty old rotten chicken wing. Next thing you do is scream for the "dipper". Oh, I forgot to tell you how to recognize the "dipper"! He's the guy that goes from one crabber to the next holding the crab net at "port arms" and doesn't have a line out of his own. Now, this is where the design of the net begins to make sense. At this point in the ritual you begin to inch the crab to the surface by slowly and I mean slowly pulling the line in inch by inch. Once the crab sees light he lets go of the chicken and all is lost. The "dipper" puts the net in the water long before the crab can be netted and waits until he sees the crab...hoping that he sees it before it sees him. As soon as the "dipper" sees the crab he dips down deep into the water and Prays that he gets the crab. Now, if you're the "dipper", which is an honor, and you miss a crab you will be ridiculed for at least a year and you will never dip again...unless you own the net. Anyway, after the crab is brought to the surface he is put into a bushel basket by hitting the net on the basket now if you had a regular net, the crab would be entangled and hard to remove, hence the wire. Now, all you have to do is repeat the above for about fifty times which usually lasted all night and you can take your bushel of crabs go home with your friends have your wife steam them (the crabs not your friends) get a few more six packs of Boh Beer and enjoy an Oriole game.

More Later

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rough Week

We've had a pretty rough week. Last Wednesday Doug Hamilton died after a long illness. Doug is Buddy Hamilton's father. Doug was a very wonderful man. He has been my friend for over twenty five years and it was hard to say goodbye. As I look back at all the things that he did for family and friends I realize that he sat the example for many in this small town. He will be greatly missed and I consider it an honor to have known him. Rest in Peace Doug. I'm sure that the Father has deeds that he wants done in Heaven and that's why he called you home.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Our Family II

As I wrote in the last entry, there were ten of us, seven girls and three boys. It was tough sleeping because there were only three bedrooms. Of course mom and dad got one of them leaving two bedrooms for ten kids. It really didn't matter what sex you were when it came to where you slept. There were five of us per bed. Three big kids slept at the top of the bed while two of the smaller kids slept at the foot.Why were our sleeping arrangements made in this way? Because the two little kids always slept with the feet of the bigger kids in their face while the bigger kids never had to worry about whether the smaller ones had clean feet or not. You know, now that I think about it and looking at my stature...I would still be sleeping at the foot of the bed.:) I remember when my oldest sister Alice became a teenager, she no long had to sleep with the rest of us, she got to sleep on the sofa! At first, we all thought of it as some sort of "rite of passage". Wow, she got to sleep by herself, what an honor! That is until she started getting up in the morning with a kink in her neck from sleeping with her head on the armrest. Alice would scream if anyone even looked at her neck let alone try to straighten it out. Mom used to sneak up behind her and twist her neck real fast or Alice would walk with her head crooked all day. (boy the reads like something out of the Beverly Hillbillies or a Jeff Foxworthy skit!). I never slept by myself until I joined the Navy, except for that year with Alice.

Every school year we always had new clothes....new to us that is. Mom worked for Volunteers of America which is a lot like the Goodwill. One day a week during the summer months she took one of us to her workplace to pick out clothes for school. I remember when it was my turn. We went into a room that had mountains of used clothes that were donated for the poor people of Baltimore. The piles were sorted by size. Mom pointed to a pile and told me to pick out clothes that I liked.Okay, we're talking early fifties here with the Korean and WWII fresh on everyone's mind. Nothing would make a young male feel more like a hero then to don his country's uniform. Most of the clothes I picked out were US Marine Corp dress shirts and pants. I must have looked a sight when I went to school in my dress kacki pants and shirt...yep that's right my mom let me wear them. I remember taking the stripes off the shirts...I thought I looked cool! Shoes? Yeah, they were used too. Most were too big so we got tissue paper for the toes. As we used to joke...the soles were so thin you could stand on a dime and could tell whether in was heads or tails.:)

More Later

Monday, July 28, 2008

Our Family I

I thought I'd write for awhile about my Dad's family and how my siblings and I were brought up and how it influenced our lives. First, I want you all to know that I know that I am not the smartest man in the world and you'll have to forgive me for my grammar and spelling which sometimes even spell-checker can't figure out.

We lived in the southern area of Baltimore which was called "Pig Town" for most of our childhood. Pig Town was a lower to middle class income area. Most people had jobs working for the railroad or the many factories in the area.

We lived in row homes all our lives. I'm talking about homes that were about fifty feet long by eighteen feet wide and,if you were lucky three stories high. Every house had a front "stoop" and a rear "stoop".
The row houses in Baltimore were from a different era. At the turn of the century none of them had indoor plumbing and there was an outhouse in the back yard. When indoor plumbing was introduced suddenly a three bedroom home turned into a two bedroom home with a toilet.At first we never had a bath tub (at least I don't remember one) in the house. We had to go to a bath house which was really a shower house which was strategically located in the center of a neighborhood. Even though I was very young, I can still smell the steam and the small bars of Ivory soap they used to give you. When did we go there? Why,every Saturday of course!

In the summer every window in every house w
as open and no one had screens, air conditioners were unheard of. Old people sat by the window twenty four hours a day and if they weren't there they were either sick or dead. No one got away with anything because everyone was watching you and you could get spanked by a concerned neighbor(one of those old people)as well as your dad, if your dad was pissed off enough about what you did.

There were ten of us not counting mom and dad. We lived in neighborhoods where people watched out for one another but it wouldn't be unusual to have two fathers watching and instructing their sons on how to fight as the boys "duked it out" in the middle of the street. No one liked strangers or cops and immediately became suspicious when an unknown or a "prowl" car came into the neighborhood. We never heard gunshots and all of us learned how to fight. We usually handled things with our fists or just yelled at each other a lot.

It was a time of very hot summers where in the evening everyone sat outside on the front "stoop". The kids played curb ball, kick the can and red line. The snowball man came around once a night and I can still hear the screams of small children yelling "wait a minute!" to the drivers as they attempted to get their attention. Dad always seemed to have enough money so we all could h
ave a snowball which tasted wonderful on those hot sticky nights. During a thunderstorm we would lay down in the gutters and let the cool water run around us on it's way to the sewer. I know, I know, it was filthy but none of us ever got sick and it felt so good! We were not rich but I really don't remember going hungry. There were some rough times but we always seemed to have enough.

Sometimes during the summer we went to camp. That's right camp! The city government had a program called "The Fresh Air Camp". The poorest of the poor was sent for two weeks to the Appalachian Mountains where we spent our time swimming and have cookouts over a campfire.I remember,as my sister Mar would say "we would cry when we got on the bus to go and cry when we had to go back home!" Once we got there the first thing that had to be done is we were all deloused. They put us in a shower and spread some kind of blue disinfectant over our whole bodies. There wasn't any shame in this everyone had to go through it so we didn't know who had "cooties".

My dad could probably be best described as "street wise". He did what he had to do to get by and if that meant that he had to swindle and steal then that's what he did. I won't go into any
specifics here but lets just say that it was pretty humiliating if you happen to be with him when he pulled one his thefts. Okay, I'll just tell you about one...he would go into one of Baltimore's biggest department stores go to the shoe dept. take a new pair of shoes out of the box, try them on and if they fit he would take his old shoes and put them in the box and place the box back one the shelf.Now, you might say that he was poor and didn't have the money and at times that would be right (the fact that he didn't have the money,it's never right to steal), but sometimes when he did this (and many other things) he had money in his pocket.I remember him telling me many years later after he had spent money belonging to me that once he had started spending my money he found it so easy to get and hard to stop spending until it was gone. Maybe once he had started to steal he found it so easy that it was hard to stop. I don't mean to smear my dads name but thought I'd just let you know how it was.

I can remember going to the movies for the matinée at the Horn Theater almost
every Saturday. It cost 5 cents to get in and we stayed there most of the day watching the Three Stooges, Superman, a whole lot of cartoons and a feature film which was usually a western starring Roy Rogers or Hop-Along-Cassidy.We never bought popcorn or candy while we were there. We usually took something from home like a sandwich or a bag of tomatoes that we had to sneak in because we weren't suppose to bring anything into the movie.

My dad never got along with my mom's parents. When I was really young (five years old) we lived right across the street from my grandparents and dad and them were at it constantly. Once, I remember that we had our electricity turned off because we didn't pay the bill (it happened sometimes) and our next door neighbor felt sorry for us because of the amount of kids we had. The neighbor allowed my dad to put an extension cord from our house to theirs so we could have electricity. My grandma saw this and called the electric company and reported my dad and the neighbor and we both had to pay a fine. I don't know what started this feud but it cost us any kind of relationship that we could have had with our grandparents. I barely remember them or any of my aunts or uncles. As a matter of fact we didn't know any of our aunts or uncles on either side. I don't know how many cousins I have.

When I became a teenager my dad started to look at me differently. I was no longer a kid to feed, I suddenly became an asset. When I was fifteen I was told I had to get a job to help support the family. I went to work at a local department store as a stockboy. I worked everyday after school and on Saturday. I made twenty five dollars a week and my dad took twenty. I know you are going to find this hard to believe, but I had to buy my lunch on Saturday and any work clothes I needed with the five dollars I had left. What was I giving my dad twenty dollars for? Why, for rent and my meals! (I was fifteen). After a few months I wasn't needed at the store any more and was let go. Dad wanted me to quit school and find a full time job. I resisted telling him that I wanted to get through high school so I could get a good job. His answer? "I raised you as big as you are and all I had was a six grade education, you certainly can make it with an eight grade education!" I didn't agree and refused to leave school.

Our relationship deteriorated and it got so he wasn't talking to me except to criticize and it got so I hated to see him come home. My mom intervened and I sent to my oldest sister's home to live. I lived there for a year and I must admit it was probably the happiest year of my life.

After the year I moved back home and dad continued to badger me so after a year I decided that I had to do something. I quit school in the ninth grade and joined the Navy which at that time was the best decision I ever made in my life. To give you an idea as to how bad it got I had to go to the airport by myself on the day I left home. As I st
ood in the doorway of my home with my suitcase I said goodbye to my father. He wouldn't take me to the airport. I was taken there by my recruiting officer who told me that in all the years that he recruited sailors this was the first time he had to take one to the airport when they left home. As I said goodbye dad looked at me and said "I'll see you in a couple of weeks." I told him that boot camp was three months long. He looked at me smugly, like he couldn't wait to say the next sentence and said "I know how long boot camp is but the Navy is looking for men, and you're no man!" I left home and took a bus to the recruitment center. I stood off to the side at the airport as families said goodbye to their sons and brothers with tears in their eyes.

Dad was right. I wasn't a man when I joined the Navy but I don't think any son would like to hear such words from his dad especially when the son knew that his whole life was about to change and was scared to death that he was going to fail. I guess my dad's final comments made me determined that I was going to make it and I guess that, in a way, I have him to thank for that.

I became a man in the Navy. I got my High School Diploma which opened up a whole new life for me.

More thoughts later.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This Summer

What a summer we've had! First, had our beautiful first grand daughter Rocky, graduate high school. It was wonderful being there with her that weekend. I was so proud of her, she is so beautiful. Next, we had to say goodbye to my number two daughter, four of my grandchildren and a wonderful son-in-law. Standby Denver the LeBon/Johnson clan have invaded your beautiful mountains and serene valleys. Denver, you should be celebrating because we are a proud lot...and nothing comes before family! Next, Mom had her problems with her heart. Everything is going very well. Anyone that doesn't believe in modern miracles hasn't heard this story of a loving mom that found she had heart problems through her annual physical.
Next, we're going HOME to Maryland to be there when our number three daughter, Julie has her baby boy (wishful thinking). I'm looking forward to the trip. I just love Hampstead and can't wait to sit on the back deck in the morning as the deer graze along the hillside.
Then, we're off to Spoken where I'll be dancing at my son's wedding. Then you will see why I have the nickname "twinkle-toes". I can't wait to meet my future daughter-in-laws parents. I'm so proud of my son, he's turned out to be quite a man. I'm not sure but it looks like we'll be coming by train unless the airfare comes down.
Then, sometime this year, before the snow flies, I want to take a trip to Denver and spend some time with the Johnson's. All this, and the gas prices are going through the roof! Oh well, this is what retirement is suppose to be about.

Love to you all!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


I've waited to write this blog so that you would hear about Mom's condition from her. I look at this as a wake up call for the both of us. I'm trying to convince her that we should retire as soon as possible and enjoy life. We really don't know what we're going to do but I think we've made up our minds about where we want to live. I think we'll stay in the Willmar area and take trips in the winter. Of course we'll be taking trips to Washington State and Colorado in the summer with trips to Maryland and Florida in the winter. We love this area during the spring and summer. Hopefully we'll find a small place in Willmar and leave Atwater. Since all of our kids left home there is really nothing to keep us here and we've often asked ourselves why we're still here. Anyway, keep your Mom in your Prayers especially on Tuesday when we go to St.Cloud

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"There is an appointed time for
and a time for every affair under the

A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time plant, and a time to uproot
the plant.

A time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to tear down, and a time to build.

A time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance.

A time to scatter stones, and a time to
gather them;
a time to embrace, and a time to be far
from embraces.

A time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away.

A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to be silent and a time to speak.

A time to love, and a time to hate;
a time of war and a time of peace."
Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

What weekend we had last week. First, we got to go to our to our oldest granddaughter's graduation. It was a stormy night but the smile on Rocky's face more then made up for it. I wish I could see my "big city" girls more but with tight schedules and the outrageous price of gas makes it almost impossible. On Saturday we had Rocky's party and the whole family was there to celebrate and play a little volleyball. We had a wonderful time even though there were a few injuries.
Then came Tuesday...We had to say goodbye to Chuck, Chris, Allison, Ashley, Tanner, Mitchell and of course Ruby. Saying goodbye was very difficult. I spent most of the day after I got off work helping Chuck move the heavy furniture into the moving van. Chuck asked me if I was going to miss my family, I almost lost it then, I had to get away and stand by my truck until I could hide my emotions.
I'm getting pretty choked up writing this blog. I'm going to miss them all so very much.
Take care you Johnson's and remember I love you all.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Journey

I guess you've all been wondering about my fascination with sail ships. Well, besides the fact that I think they're just beautiful there is a Spiritual reflection that I have that I would like to share.

Ask yourself what you would be thinking when you board a sail ship to go on a journey. You're all excited about the trip, what kind of goodies there are to eat, how many friends you're going to meet along the way and most important, what is your destination going to be like. You go aboard and find all sorts of people doing all kinds of jobs to get the ship underway. Some of the jobs you find most interesting, saying to yourself, 'I could do that' and then there are the jobs that you say is something that you could never do.

Now, I like to think of life as going aboard a sail ship and preparing for a journey. Everyone tells you what your final destination (Heaven) is going to be like but you really don't know for sure and you're kind of apprehensive about it, not really sure you want to start this journey into, what you believe, is the unknown.
Because someone loved you so much when you were born you were Baptized into Jesus Christ thereby giving you the ticket to board the ship. You find everyone that you love aboard, both alive and dead, to help you understand your journey. All the passengers and crew are your community who have the same apprehensions that you do but because they've been sailing longer then you, there is a certain amount of joy in their lives because they know, through Faith, that the destination is worth the many perils and heartaches that they as a community are going to have along the way. Everyone aboard ship (the community) has a job (vocation) with is designed by God just for him or her. You can always recognize these people, they're the ones that are always full of joy. These people set the example for you. There are some of them that when you see them at work, you stand in awe wondering how and why they do the things they do. The ship finally gets underway after all the provisions (Eucharist, Bible) are safely stowed away. No sail ship can get very far without the wind. The wind is the Spirit of God that blows you and your community toward your destination. As you sail along there is calm with a gentle breeze and sometimes there will be gale force winds (sin) taking you off course and which will make you feel as though you're not worthy to continue. Then, just when you're ready to give up hope that you will ever get back on course...the gentle breeze begins again steering you and your community in the right direction.

Then, and this is the real kicker...you realize that there are many ships traveling in the same direction...to the same destination...to our Lord, which is one and all!

Friday, May 9, 2008

This week

I still haven't heard from anyone regarding our upcoming fortieth wedding anniversary.

Late last week I was given a new client in the hospice program. I was warned by many of the nurses that he was an old "crank" and would probably chew me out when I go to meet him. The next day I went to the assisted living home where he was staying. I was met at the door a nurse's assistant who advised the he was in a bad mood and would probably throw me out of his room. I went to his room introduced myself and we sat down and had a conversation about his old job how long he had been retired, etc, etc. He was very nice the whole time and shook my hand when I left. the nursing assistant was in shock. Anyway, that was last Thursday, on Friday I came to work and was told that he had been admitted . After work I went to visit him but he was sleeping. I spoke to the nurse who stated that he had been given some pain med. but he was expected to recover and would be going to a nursing home. To make a long story short, I visited twice spoke to his daughter both times because he was sleeping...probably in a coma. Well, he died on Tuesday morning.

One of the neighbors behind had a tree taken down and asked if I wanted the wood. The only problem was, I had to cut it up and haul it into my wood pile. I finished it last night. (nice to know I can still do things like that , or as your Mom put it "I still got it").

Was supposed to go to jail Ministry today but I received a call from the jail that the inmates were in "lock-down" and there won't be any programs today. So I spend the day with your mom shopping and doing a lot of yard work.
Tomorrow I go to Marshall to study.

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Hello everyone! Sorry for not posting in such a long time, I don't have an excuse except that I've been pretty busy and then I forget...I know what you're all thinking! "He's just getting old" and you're right I am but I've never been more content then I am right now.

I went to the VA about my skin cancer a few months ago and they zapped a few suspicious spots. I just got the cost of that half hour in the mail...$950! I'm glad I don't have to pay for it.

I've decided that I am going to study to become a Secular Franciscan. It will take three and a half years to complete the study and be accepted into the Fraternity. A Secular Franciscan is a lay person who has been called to live the Gospel of our Lord according to the teachings of St. Francis and Ste. Claire. No, I won't be living in a monastery or get one of those little bald spots on the top of my head, which would have been hard to distinguish with my current hair style. I'm just starting out and I Pray that the Holy Spirit will help me in this decision. As most of you know, I've been going to the Franciscan Retreat house here in Minnesota for the past twelve years and I feel that whenever I feel that little tug by the Holy Spirit it was always a Franciscan that did the tugging. So, Pray for me and I will keep you all in my Prayers.

I started a Jail Ministry here in Kandiyohi and have found it to be a wonderful and eye opening experience. There's nothing like praying the Rosary with five or six inmates (with gang tattoos) that truly want to know our Lord Jesus Christ. It just appears that they can't get enough of talking about our Lord. I just can't believe that I'm doing this! Then I remember that I am just doing what the Spirit of God wants me to do, that this certainly isn't about me, but it's about our loving and forgiving God that has led me here and I've never been happier. Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ who lives and reigns forever!

I've decided to take a little time off this summer from the coffee shop. I'll only work three days a week. That will give me time to go camping, fish and bike. I really want to spend some time with my grandchildren and hope that this time off will give me the opportunity to do so.

I'm about half way done with my current sailboat which is coming along just great. I may have to take a trip to Denver to deliver it this summer.

I really don't want to think about part of the family moving to Denver. I remember how long it took for us to adjust to Minnesota and I still won't say "ufda" or "pop". I can't stand hockey (unless my grandchildren are playing)and for the most part all Minnesota pro teams should be semi-pro. Snow is just beautiful as long as you don't have to be digging drunks out of ditches or shovel four foot of it off your roof. I guess I went off on one of those "rants". I don't like the idea of my kids moving away and I get dry mouthed every time I think that I should have spent more time with them while they were here.

Mom and I are celebrating our fortieth anniversary this year and would like to go somewhere special next fall. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I'll try and keep you all updated sorry for the delay.