Riding with Joe Miller

(A summer repeat from 6/4/2013)

In my post of January 16, 2013, I wrote about Joe Miller’s Jests — the famous compilation of 247 numbered jokes published in 1739 by John Mottley. Well, there’s another “Joe Miller” that played a role in my life.

Fifty plus years ago, when I worked at Camp Napowan (the Boy Scout Camp in Wild Rose, WI), the chap who owned some of the property was Joe Miller (no relation to the joke book persona). Joe had an ancient olive drab pick up truck that (Scout’s Honor) had no doors. Floor stick shift. And of course there were no seat belts and no handle above the door to grab. His favorite line – while cruising, weaving and wobbling on the back roads of Wild Rose – was “If there’s no one coming around that bend, we’ll see the sun rise tomorrow.” I swear if we were driving with Joe, we’d grab under the glove compartment and hang on for dear life.

Today, there’d be a lot of “tsk tsking.” There would be newspaper articles.  There’d be an “inquiry.” Joe would be criticized. Maybe tossed in the clink. Unsafe vehicle. Endangerment. Et cetera. The usual assortment of money-grubbing plaintiff’s lawyers would sue anyone and everyone to scam a buck.

You should know — I would definitely not want – or allow – my child or grandchild to be one of Joe’s passengers. But looking back on it — I’m privately glad that I rode with Joe Miller . . . . .


(A summer repeat from January 30, 2012)

There are three archangels in religious tradition: Michael, Raphael and Gabriel. Of the three, Gabriel is the one who curiously keeps popping up — not just in Christianity but in other faiths as well.  Gabriel is not just a divine messenger from God, he is an uber messenger. . . . .

In the Jewish tradition, Gabriel was a holy messenger who in the Old Testament book of Daniel offers an explanation of Daniel’s visions. In Christianity, it is Gabriel who foretells the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. It was Gabriel who visits Mary to deliver the good news of her new role.

In the Mormon faith, Gabriel ministered to Joseph Smith.  In his earthly life, Gabriel was believed to be Noah. Some say, Gabriel continues to serve as a divine messenger having visited earth as recently as 1954.

In Islam, it was Gabriel (Jibril) who revealed the Qur’an to Muhammed. And in the Bahai faith, Gabriel is referenced in their holy texts (Baha’u’llah‘s mystical work Seven Valleys).

With Gabriel’s positive and influential involvement in so many religious traditions, one has to wonder why religious strife focuses so much on differences. Perhaps Gabriel, the Messenger, is trying to tell us something. . . . .

“Nice Mustache”

Donna and I will take off in the summer and go up to Wisconsin. Or somewhere.  Long weekends.  Getaway.  These are the times when I tend to be lazy about shaving.   As I’ve said before, I have no strong inclination to shave.  Given my druthers, I’d probably look like Billy Gibbons.  Or Dusty Hill.  I shave to look neat.   Presentable.   But most importantly I shave to please a certain member of my family.  If you get my drift . . . .  (see 9/14/2014).  Over the last few weeks, I have left the caterpillar on my upper lip grow.  And expand.  Maybe it’s the manly levels of testosterone that pulse through my body.  My “stash” is looking quite cool.  At least I think it does when I look at myself in the mirror.  I give the edge a little twirl.  Smirk.  “Nice stash Studly.”

For people who haven’t seen me for a few weeks, I get a quizzical look.  As if to say “what the. . . .”  Time skips a beat or two.  They recover and blurt out the words  “nice mustache!”  Nice mustache.   At first I would do a fist pump and think yeahhhh. . . .  But I have come to realize that “nice mustache” is really the only civil observation a friend might offer when confronted by someone with mangy-looking facial hair.   And I have come to the conclusion that “nice mustache” probably translates to – “Petersen you look like a #%&*X! idiot.” 

That has been the conclusion of everyone in my family who now – led by my granddaughter – routinely chant “Shave it Popi, shave it!”  My hearing isn’t so good lately.  So all I hear is “Save it, Popi, save it!” 

So the guy who wanted a brownie. . . .

(A summer repeat from 12/2/2012)

So the guy who was on his deathbed in the previous post called his three best friends together – a priest, a doctor and a lawyer. “My friends,” he said “I’ve decided that I want to take my money with me. I’m giving each of you an envelope containing $300,000 in cash. Just before they close my coffin, I want you to throw in the envelope. I will be happy because I’m taking my money with me.

The friends solemnly agreed and a short time later the man passed away. At the funeral, each of the friends stepped up and tossed his envelope into the coffin — just as it was being closed. Following the funeral, the three friends gathered to have a drink. After a moment, the priest broke down and tearfully said “I have a confession. I took $50,000 out of the envelope to give to a homeless shelter.” With that, the doctor broke down and sobbed “I have a confession — I took $100,000 to help fund the children’s hospital.”

The lawyer’s eyes narrowed. His stoic face turned to a frown. “I am ashamed of you. Ashamed! Taking money like that. I want you to know that I put my personal check in that envelope for the full $300,000. . . . .”

The Last Brownie?

(A summer repeat from November 29, 2012)

A man lay on his deathbed. Perhaps a few hours to live. His hands were folded on his chest.  And his eyes were closed. Suddenly his nose began to twitch. A familiar smell. He drifted upward out of the deep recess of sleep. That smell he thought. CHOCOLATE. Brownies baking! One eye flickered open. Then the other. And he slowly tilted his head. The smell of chocolate was overpowering. The kitchen was just down the hall.  I need. . . one last brownie. . . .

With great effort, he rolled onto his side and let gravity take its course. He flopped heavily onto the floor. Slowly, laboriously he elbowed his way toward the kitchen. After what seemed like hours, he crossed the threshold of the kitchen.  And there – on the kitchen table – was a plate of warm brownies. He elbowed his way forward and then slowly extended his grasp . . . . fingers . . . . reaching . . . . almost there.

Just then his wife walked in the kitchen – “GEORGE!   You leave those brownies alone! Those are for the funeral!

Henri Nouwen

(A summer repeat from July 12, 2012)
One of the great inspirational/spiritual writers of all time was Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). Henri Nouwen was born in Holland. At an early age, he felt a call to the priesthood. He was ordained as a diocesan priest in 1957 and studied at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, KS. Henri went on to teach at Notre Dame, the Divinity School at Yale University and Harvard University. He died suddenly — and all too early — in 1996.

For several months in the 1970’s, Henri lived in a Trappist community at the Genesee Abbey in New York. In the early ’80’s, he lived in Peru among the desperately poor. After a time of contemplation, he left the seemingly bright world of academia — to go and work with mentally handicapped adults at L’Arche Daybreak in Toronto. It was at L’Arche that Henri felt his greatest fulfillment. He was a prolific writer and in 2003, a Christian Century survey rated his works number one among Catholic and mainline Christian clergy.

I was referred to Henri some years ago by my dear friend David. On his recommendation, I have read most of Henri’s works. Wow! Spiritual. Inspirational. Moving. And somewhat melancholy – knowing that Henri died at such a young age. Return of the Prodigal Son is one of his most famous – and probably my favorite. I was given a copy by my friend and priest – Fr. Bob. Return is worth a second read. . . . which I’m planning. . . . . If you have to pick one of Henri’s books to read — this is the one.

[Afterword – I read it a second time.  It is now on the shelf for a third]

Thank you, Captain. . . .

(A summer repeat from 5/28/2012)

One of my favorite stories relates to Napoleon — the Grand Emperor of the French Republic.*  Napoleon was at a parade of troops outside of Paris. His Marshalls, his staff and his officers were all present. As Napoleon was reviewing the troops, alone and from a distance, a small animal ran from a bush startling his horse. The horse bucked. Reared up. And Napoleon fell backward in his saddle, clinging precariously to the reins. No one moved. Except for a young private who sprinted from the lines. His rifle clattered to the ground. His hat flew off. The private grabbed the reins of the Emperor’s horse, unceremoniously shoved Napoleon back into the saddle and snapped to attention.

Napoleon looked around. At his Marshalls. His generals. His officers. And then down at the young private. In a booming voice, Napoleon said “Thank you. . . Captain.”

The young man was flustered and asked “Of what regiment, Sir?”

Napoleon laughed. “Of my personal guard.”

The example of this courageous, young private can be an inspiration for all of us.  

*Source – Billy Sunday, the Man and His Message by William T. Ellis

“Oh Shenendoah”

(A summer repeat – from 8/14/2011)

When my daughter Lauren was born – from the day we brought her home from the hospital (and for years) – I sang to her.  Every night before she went to bed.  I would play my guitar and sing “Froggy went a Courtin’”  “This Little Light of Mine” “Trouble in Mind” and a host of others.  But I would also lapse into some old songs that we used to sing in the Gamma Alpha Beta (“GAB”) Fraternity at Augustana College.  And I would often close the evening, as Lauren was closing her eyes, with the GAB “Sweetheart Song” or “Oh Shenendoah” — a song that the GAB’s sang at a Homecoming event one year (and won). 

When Lauren was married just over two years ago, I thought long and hard about what song I should have played for the Daddy/Daughter Dance at the reception.  Then it hit me.   And I smiled.  Lauren had some general notion about the universe of songs from which I would select. “Dad, you’re not going to have them play ‘Froggy went a Courtin’ are you?”  No. . . .  Instead, I picked that melancholy favorite that I’d closed each evening with — “Oh Shenendoah.”      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etC59HVD-tg 

The music started and we both had tears in our eyes as we danced to this song that will forever be in our hearts.