Getting Philosophical

What is truth? That used to be an actual question, long before our current culture of “If I get enough people to believe my lies, then that is the truth.” Formerly, some people would think about and try to understand “the truth.” Those people were called philosophers, or sometimes time-wasters by the anti-philosophical. Those were the ‘good old days.’

“I would not think that philosophy and reason themselves will be man’s guide in the foreseeable future; however, they will remain the most beautiful sanctuary they have always been for the select few.” Albert Einstein

What Al says is true. You’ll notice he didn’t speculate on whether philosophy and reason would be woman’s guide. The wise man never speculates on what women are thinking. So I’ll follow Al’s lead and temporarily re-open up the beautiful sanctuary of philosophy for you select few men with so much time to waste that you are reading this in order to avoid facing our messed up state and world.

As I recall from my college philosophy class, it was Socrates who invented philosophy by asking questions. This is called the Socratic Method, named after himself. He thus became the inventor of name-brand marketing as well.

Socrates’ most famous dictum is “Know thyself.” Apparently ancient Greeks only spoke in King James English. The way to know yourself is to keep asking questions until you push beyond the limits of your present knowledge and belief. For some of us that only takes one or two questions. With that in mind, I imagine Socrates is probably sorry he didn’t think up these questions:

“If a man who cannot count finds a four-leaf clover, is he lucky?”

“Why is a person who invests your money called a ‘broker’?”

Socrates’ most famous philosophical question is the one that has both inspired and stumped philosophers of all ages and cultures – “If a man speaks in the forest and a woman doesn’t hear him, is he still wrong?” I think it was Socrates, or maybe it was Plato. Or Brad Pitt. One of those guys.

When you are philosophical, you can repeat deep thoughts like these:

“Before enlightenment – chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment – chop wood, carry water.” Zen Buddhist Proverb

“You never know what is enough, until you know what is more than enough.” William Blake, Proverbs of Hell

“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.” Henry David Thoreau

Now we are getting down to the deep stuff. As I recall, Thoreau went on to talk about women and beer.

Other philosophers point out the difficulty of achieving absolute truth by thinking about it, which is perhaps why people don’t go into philosophy much anymore.

“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” Niels Bohr

“The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.” Aldous Huxley

It is not only intellectuals who can ‘talk philosophy.’ Two of America’s greatest philosophers are
(1) Yogi Berra: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And
(2) Mae West: “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.”
In another culture, they would be considered Zen masters.

That reminds me of an incident in philosophy class which didn’t really happen, but it should have. At the end of the course, the professor gave us our final exam and said, “Using any of the philosophical methods we have examined in this class, prove that this chair does not exist.” The highest grade went to the young woman who spent about fifteen seconds composing her answer before she walked out. It said, “What chair?”

It is already too late for me to take the wise counsel of mathematician and philosopher Lewis Carroll, who said, in Alice in Wonderland, “Begin at the beginning and go on ‘til you come to the end; then stop.”

It’s hard to know when to stop, when you can’t really remember what you were talking about, and why; (if in fact you had any actual subject you wanted to explore when you began typing.)

So I should have stopped several paragraphs ago, but no, I had to go on. Rats. I’ll never be a philosopher. Or a writer. Too bad I’m not getting paid by the word. Or by the number of blogs into which I inject “rats.”

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IQ Test for Free

The good news today is that you can take an IQ test for free. Yes, I am aware of the cultural and language biases of all IQ tests. For example, when a test says, “A saucer is to a cup what a placemat is to a _____________”, most Montana children will fail. A saucer is a sledding device and a cup is an athletic accessory for males, but what in the world is a placemat?

I am providing this public service because the legislature is in town and some of their actions are impossible to believe. More than one person has expressed that the level of intelligence in this legislature has never been lower with talk of a bill to fix a person’s sex by law, a bill to have the legislature interpret the meaning of laws rather than the Supreme Court, a bill to prevent people who have had a vaccine from giving blood, and a bill to prohibit employers, even hospitals, from requiring employees to be vaccinated. And no, those aren’t even close to being the dumbest ideas that have been proposed.

So why not require people to pass an IQ test before they can run for the legislature? Fine, but which one?

We can’t use the entrance exam used by my Rocky Mountain College for would-be freshman, which begins, “1. Write a mathematic statement that comprehends the weak nuclear force, strong nuclear force, gravity and electro-magnetism. Prove your answer.”

However, we could use the entrance exam we Rocky football players took. Bear in mind (nope, unintended) that for two years I played tight end and defensive end at 155 pounds, so you can see how the test didn’t screen many people out. As I recall it started this way:

(Multiple Choice)
1. Who is buried in Grant’s tomb?
A. Pres. Ulysses S. Grant
B. Amy Grant
C. Land Grant
D. Was the tomb raided?

2. Discuss the rise and fall of the Sumerian dynasty in the ancient Near East, paying particular attention to the evolution of their religion, economy, governmental structure, and agricultural practices, OR write your name in BLOCK LETTERS.

(True or False)
3. If Karen has five apples, and Bill takes two apples from her, and then Jenny gives her five oranges, who wants to go get a beer?

(Multiple choice, pick one or more)
4. Have you ever been outside of Montana?
A. No
B. Maybe, when we were drunk.
C. Am I in Montana now?

(The following question was only for football players who weighed less than 135 and could not kick the ball very far.)
5. A bus leaves Billings traveling at 55 miles per hour, bound for Chicago, which is 1230 miles away. Be on it.

So how did you do? That good? You could have played offensive line for us at Rocky in the ‘60s.

I called the Commissioner of Political Practices to propose this IQ test for would-be legislators, but he said they already use the test. People who fail it still get to be legislators and make laws that try to amend not only the Constitution but also the laws of science, common sense, and decency. Well rats.

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Foulweather Friends

We got all the friends that money can buy, so we never have to be alone.
And we keep gettin’ richer, but we can’t get our picture on the cover of the Rollin’ Stone
.” Lyric by Shel Silverstein for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, 1972

Fairweather friends have always gotten a bad rap, and rightly so. We all want foulweather friends, but without the foul weather. Or do we? What about when we have to be the foulweather friend?

A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Latin Proverb
A friend in need is someone to be avoided.” Anonymous

Both Mr. Proverb (who goes by many different first names) and Ms. Anonymous are among the more prolific writers in the English language. When they disagree, how can we have any certainty? We will have to consult other ancient authorities.

One loyal friend is worth ten thousand relatives.” Euripides (Greek playwright) (Yes that is the correct spelling, even though “playwrite” makes more sense.)

Grief can take care of itself, but to get the full value of joy you must have somebody to divide it with.” Mark Twain (American humorist, even though this isn’t that funny)

I get by with a little help from my friends.” John Lennon (the great one, not just a member of Paul McCartney’s old band, as young people would have you believe) (Young people = anyone under 60)

A true friend stabs you in the front.” Oscar Wilde (crabby writer)

Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Gore Vidal (apparently friendless author)

There, doesn’t all that mushy talk about friends get you all teary and make you want to call up a good friend and eat chocolate and watch a chick flick together? Me neither. But let’s end with one more mushy friend quote.

Do not use a hatchet to remove a fly from your friend’s forehead.” Chinese Proverb

There, that wasn’t too mushy, was it? I have been blessed to be friends with all my siblings and inlaws, (they call themselves the outlaws), along with tons of friends in the places I have worked and played and worshipped.

I knew when I met you an adventure was going to happen.” Winnie the Pooh

I didn’t actually know that when I met Bob FitzGerald at Rocky Mountain College in 1964, but that is what happened. He dragged me into adventure after adventure, not only in performing groups but in many different jobs and projects. We have been best friends for well over half a century.

And then there is Pat Callbeck Harper, who is more than a friend. When we fell in love, we often said our goal was to grow old together. We are doing that. The growing old isn’t as positive as it is cracked up to be, but the doing it together is even better than advertised.

As our memories start to wobble, we help each other find glasses and keys and notes to ourselves about things not to forget.

C. S. Lewis is credited with saying, “A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”

At some point that may be me and Pat. That’s what foulweather friends are really for.

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Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters

When I was young, there was a proverb that went “Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days.” That was a line from the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes (11:1) in the Revised Standard Version.

I didn’t know that. I just knew that when adults said it, it didn’t make any sense. If you find your bread on the waters after many days, it will be incredibly soggy.

The writer of the ancient proverb was probably voicing a theological opinion that if you do something good, God later does something good for you. And if you do something bad…

Even as a child I didn’t buy that theology. That’s not how my parents talked about God. Now I’m not so sure the soggy bread platitude doesn’t have some truth in it, without adding on the God-keeping-score philosophy.

One of the good things I have done in my life is to be a part of the Montana Logging and Ballet Company, despite my lack of musical ability. (My sisters got most of that in our family.)

Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote most of our songs for our CDs, and all of the songs we did on stage. His song that the other three of us love most is “Oh Be Gentle.”

Twenty-five years ago, a good friend, Phyllis Lerner, asked me if her friend, Anne Green Gilbert, could use that song for the Creative Dance Center and Kaleidoscope Dance Company which Anne founded in Seattle. I in turn asked the other three guys, who all said approximately, “Somebody wants our song? Of course.”

Recently I heard from Phyllis again. Apparently Anne has been using our song for the last 25 years for her dancers. Anne sent a video of the latest version of the song performed by dancers of all ages for One Billion Rising. This is a movement to stop violence against women and girls. We were astounded.

Steve Garnaas-Holmes wrote back to Anne, “I don’t know why I never thought of dancing with it when I wrote Oh Be Gentle. I should have. I just watched your video of the One Billion rising group dancing with it… I got a little teary. What a beautiful thing. I can’t think of a better life for that song to have than this…”

Anne has given her permission to share this video, along with permission from the current director of the Kaleidoscope Dance Company, Anna Mansbridge. All the dancers have signed permission slips.

Here is some amazing soggy bread, back after 25 years:

“Oh Be Gentle” lyrics and music by Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Performed by the Montana Logging and Ballet Company
Choreography by Anne Green Gilbert
used by permission from Anne Green Gilbert

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Tell Me a Groaner

In this time when the news is almost entirely depressing with, well, you can fill in the blanks with Montana, US, and world events; you may want to go back to a simpler time when there was only one major worry — like during World War II or the Black Plague.

Now is the time made for us English majors, because we can save the day with our superior knowledge of puns, mostly known to the uninitiated as “groaners.” Oscar Levant, an old-time actor, comedian, pianist and composer, said, “A pun is the lowest form of humor — when you do not think of it first.”

Dave Barry made it even clearer: “Puns are little plays on words that a certain breed of person loves to spring on you and then look at you in a certain self-satisfied way to indicate that he thinks that you must think that he is by far the cleverest person on Earth now that Benjamin Franklin is dead, when in fact what you are thinking is that if this person ever ends up in a lifeboat, the other passengers will hurl him overboard by the end of the first day even if they have plenty of food and water.”

Decades ago, our sister, Jannie, and her honey, Randy, had a game they called “hot dog,” or “he said, she said,” or something like that. The goal was to produce sentences that balance, like these:
“Hot dog,” she said frankly.
“Holy cow,” he uttered.
“I’m in a hurry,” she expressed.
“I declare that Montana is no longer a territory,” he stated.
“You’re the one who ate the apple, Adam,” Eve insinuated. (in sin you ate it)

OK, we concede that word games are only fun if you think of one yourself. No, they aren’t funny, even if you don’t have to explain it.

A degree in English prepares a person for a variety of occupations, everything from fry cook to plumber’s assistant all the way to proofreader. That in turn explains all the fine occupational puns.
Did you hear about the optometrist who fell into a lens grinding machine? He made a spectacle of himself.
Did you hear about the butcher who backed into a meat grinder? He got a little behind in his work.
Truck drivers are semi-professionals.
I had a job as a human cannonball, but then I got fired..
I got a job as a marriage counsellor, but didn’t have a single customer.
I was hired as a grammar teacher, but it didn’t work out to well.

Yes, we understand that only English majors who are proofreaders even got the last one, and it certainly isn’t funny.

Music is closely allied to English in that it produces a weird sense of humor. Our church organist, Fay Buness, asked a music theory question: “If a piano fell down a mine shaft, it would make a sound when it hit the bottom. That sound would be in what musical key? A flat minor.”

That was the answer. “A flat minor.” It’s a pun because the name of the music chord sounds the same as “a flat miner.” Now do you get it? What do you mean it struck a sour note with you? You are undermining our whole thesis here.

And what is your thesis, you don’t ask, but you would if you had the slightest interest in the topic. Our thesis is that you can tell when a non-English major tells a pun because the math teacher will say, “I believe that without geometry, life is pointless. No pun intended.”

An English major would never say “no pun intended” when a pun is in fact intended. An English major will use a pun and then pray that the listener will ask, “Was that pun intended?” so that the English major, who can barely control his/her glee, can answer, “Nope, unintended.” You non-English types just missed one of the finest puns ever.

Fortunately, by now the only ones left reading this tripe are English majors. That is good for us, because nobody else would appreciate this:
The friars were behind on their belfry payments, so they opened up a small florist shop to raise funds. Since everyone liked to buy flowers from the men of God, a rival florist across town thought the competition was unfair. He asked the good fathers to close down, but they would not. He threatened to sue. They ignored him. The rival florist hired Hugh MacTaggart, the most vicious thug in town to “persuade” them to close. Hugh beat up the friars and trashed their store, saying he’d be back if they didn’t close up shop. Terrified, they did so, thereby proving only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

The difference between ordinary mortals and English majors is that they would have looked at that story and thought, “That’s not funny,” whereas we English majors said it three or four times out loud until we got the tongue twister right. Then we thought, “That’s clever, but not funny.”

And behold, it made us forget all about the bad things happening in the Legislature.

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They’ll Trash the Constitution

The Donald recently said that parts of the US Constitution are no longer valid. Since he hasn’t read it, he doesn’t know which parts. He just knows he has the right to be president for life if he has enough believers and enough guns.

His Supreme Court justices verified that protections for some women’s rights are no longer part of the US constitution. The far right is now calling for a constitutional convention to vandalize the whole document.

Here in Montana, we are on the leading edge of the fringe. Our constitution, the best in the world, is already being dismantled by a supermajority in our legislature. They have proposed 56 amendments so far, more than were proposed over the last 50 years put together. A leading Republican party leader called our Constitution a “socialist rag.” This rag protects individual privacy, provides a right to a clean a healthful environment, ensures that there are three equal branches of government, and guarantees equal rights for women, among other “socialist” ideas that they want to demolish.

I used to be Rusty Harper, and I used to be a member of the now defunct Montana Logging and Ballet Company. One of the former members, Steve Garnaas-Holmes, wrote a song expressing our unhappiness with what is happening in Montana (and the US). Former member Tim Holmes put together a homemade video using just his and Steve’s phones. Here it is. Call us a zombie group, temporarily back from the dead to stimulate the brains of the living.

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Dorothy Harper’s Eulogy

Our mother, Dorothy Watson Harper, passed away at age 99 in December. She was one of the greats. You can see a video of the celebration of her life which includes the eulogy, a slide show, and some of her writings here:

Because several people said they wanted to see a copy of the eulogy, here is what I intended to say. Any discrepancies from what I actually said are due to poor memory. Any discrepancies from her actual life are due to the inadequacy of our language to approximate who she was.

Dorothy Harper eulogy
Rusty Harper
12-18-21 St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Helena

I’m Rusty Harper. My siblings gave me the honor of speaking today by saying, “If you didn’t want to give the eulogy, you should not have been born first.”

Our mother was born 99 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, in a good Methodist family. They taught her to love God and love family. She learned that lesson well.

Her mother also taught her to be frugal. She learned that lesson well, too. Good thing, because when she was eight, the Great Depression hit.
“Frugal” meant she learned how to make her own clothes, which she did for herself and later for her family. She made her own hats.

Dorothy had a sense of style. Our Sister Nancy says Mom could look like a million bucks in an outfit that cost a buck ninety-eight for her to make.

“Frugal” for many years meant she made her own soap. It was good, sturdy soap bars that we figured would last two or three years if they didn’t accidentally get thrown in the garbage. “Frugal” meant that 70 years after the Depression was over, she was still saving plastic bags and anything else that could be reused. “Frugal” meant in the 1950s we drove twice from Great Falls to visit grandparents in Alabama and Florida with our family of seven in a Volkswagen Beetle!

We can match “frugal” with anybody.

Her mama also taught her how to cook healthy meals. She became a health food fanatic. She made yogurt before yogurt was a health food.

You can cook healthy and still be frugal. When you boil water for peas or any vegetable, the water now has nutrients in it. You can use that to make the Kool aid or just stretch the juice.

One of the great influences on Dorothy’s life was a very young childhood friend. Up until the Depression, the family would drive every year to Iuka, Mississippi, to visit relatives. The relatives had a maid, a black woman, who had a daughter just Dorothy’s age. They were great friends.
WillEllen was smart. She could teach Dorothy the names of all the plants along the stream beds and in the fields and which ones were edible or had other uses.

When the Depression hit, the family didn’t go back to Iuka again until Dorothy was a freshman in high school. This time Dorothy was shocked to hear her friend, WillEllen, read from her only schoolbook: “Run, run, run as fast as you can. You can’t catch me. I’m the gingerbread man.” In Dorothy’s English class, she was reading Shakespeare, and in her Latin class, Cicero.

WillEllen had to work in the cotton fields from the time she was a very small child. She could only go to school a few months out of the year at a school that had very few resources. Dorothy was overwhelmed and so angered by this unfairness.

Dorothy went to college at the University of Montevallo, just south of Birmingham. It was a women’s college. She loved modern dance, theater, and speech. A few years later our father would be known as one of the great speakers in this nation, but only our mother ever won a national speech competition. When she won, she came back to her campus for a huge party.

The next year, Dorothy got word that her friend WillEllen had been killed in a knife fight in a bar. Dorothy wrote a speech about the need for better education for black people. Once again, she won the national competition. This time, when she got back to campus, the president wrote her a letter saying, “If you ever give that speech again in public, you will be expelled.”

So, she didn’t give the speech again while she was in college, but she never stopped giving civil rights speeches. Clear up into her mid-90’s, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Dorothy was invited every year to speak at Touchmark, Carroll College or different civic groups. She often started off with her friend WillEllen and how far we still have to go.

Dorothy got her master’s degree at the University of Iowa in speech and child psychology, which was a brand-new discipline. The first textbook in child psychology was written just five years before she enrolled at Iowa.

After she graduated, she got married to George Harper. They had been courting off and on since they met and fell in love in high school at a Methodist Youth Fellowship rally.
George’s proposal was not something you would write home about. He was speaking at a big national MYF event. He was speaking because, in his first year of seminary, he had been elected president of the National MYF organization. Dorothy arranged to be at this event.

As Dad told it, he was sitting on the steps of a building with two of his friends. They had just convinced him to move from Duke where he was in seminary, to the Garrett School of Theology just north of Chicago. They said, “We can have such fun together, but we’re both married now, so George, you’re going to have to get married if you come here.” George replied, “OK. I’ll ask the next woman who comes down the sidewalk.”

He had seen Dorothy heading their way. When she got there, he said, “Hey honey, you want to get married?” She said, “Sure, big boy.”

That passes for romance in the Harper family. What can I say? What they lacked in classy romance, they more than made up for in a deep and abiding love.

Dorothy supported George for his next two years of seminary. She applied for a teaching position at Northwestern University. When she went for the job interview, she was surprised that the person doing the hiring was her speech professor from Montevallo, who had been fired there because of her WillEllen speech. When she walked in the door, he said, “Dorothy. You’re hired.”

Because of her Master’s, Dorothy also had her own radio show in Chicago. Parents would write in and ask questions about raising their children. Years later she said, “After I had five kids of my own, I never would have taken that job.” The job was very controversial because of her preaching that children should not be beaten or whipped or spanked; that there were more loving ways to raise children. She used those with us.

When George finished seminary, he got a job in Nashville as essentially the youth pastor for the nation. He traveled all over the country, giving inspiring talks at youth rallies, and, several times, at events around the whole world.

One of the truly amazing things about the memories of us kids of our time in Nashville is that we do not remember Dad as being an absentee father, even though he was gone most of the time.

One reason was that when he was home, he was so very present with us, and so much fun.

A much bigger reason was that whenever he was gone, our parents would write long letters every day. When we’d get a letter from Dad, Mom would read it, and then we’d talk about all the good things our daddy was doing with people. Then we’d talk about all the fun things we’re learning and things we’re going to tell him when he gets home and how we’re going to play with him.

We did not have an absentee father — and that was one great miracle of our mother’s love.

As you heard from the letter granddaughter Hannah read, every day with Mom was an education. You ask a simple question, and she would give a complex answer and off we’d go learning something new.

All of us always did well in school, because by the time we got to kindergarten, we knew learning was fun. There was one more bit of learning she always continued as well. From the time each of us could speak until just before her death, she never stopped correcting our grammar.

You also heard in the letter about the 14 different people who lived with us at different times in our little bandbox of a house in Nashville. That is 14 “not counting the Cuban family,” but I don’t know why you wouldn’t count the Cuban family. Some of those people became life-long friends like Polly Holmes and Marynell Kliber. The 14 does not count people who only stayed for a night or three or five.

While we were in Nashville, Dorothy was very active in the local Methodist Church, and she was often asked to speak at different groups. because she was a great speaker.

I know the question in your mind. What did she do in her spare time? I’ll tell you. She wrote scripts for national radio shows. One of them moved over to TV and is still on today. It’s the soap opera Days of Our Lives.

Our family moved from Nashville to Great Falls in 1953. The reason was that our parents knew that Dad was going to be fired. Oh, he was doing an excellent job. He was a very inspiring preacher doing big youth rallies all over the country, but there were white and black kids together. Three Southern bishops took him aside and explained to him that the policy of the Methodist Church at that time was ‘separate but equal.’ They said, “Don’t worry, we’re going to hire a black minister. He will be the youth pastor for the black kids, and you will be in charge of the rest.”

The man they hired happened to be one of Dad’s friends from seminary. They held black rallies and white rallies that just happened to be in the same place and at the same time and with the same speakers. The second time that Martin Luther King Junior was the keynote speaker at a giant youth rally, Dad knew his days were numbered.

He took a job as the youth pastor for the Montana Conference of the Methodist Churches. Our memories of Great Falls are that often we would wake up in the morning and there would be 25 people sleeping on the front lawn and in the living room. Yes, it would be another youth group on their way to camp or to a mission project. They would say, “Let’s go through Great Falls and stay with the Harpers.” Our mother, with no warning, could cheerfully make a meal for 25 extra people at the lowest possible expense, and the best possible health, with everybody satisfied.

Just because we moved out of the South didn’t mean we left racial bigotry behind. The great Metropolitan Opera singer Marian Anderson gave a concert at the Great Falls Civic Center, but no hotel in town would rent her a room. Dorothy and George went together to almost every church in Great Falls and organized a public boycott. In a short amount of time, most of the hotels said, “Yes, we will provide accommodations.”

In 1961, the family moved to Helena because Dad was appointed here at St. Paul’s. Well, not this building, but in the old church. Our family lived in the old parsonage. We still had people who would live with us on occasion. Two of our beloved cousins, Dianne and her brother Larry, lived with the family for a while. It was at a time when they really needed some loving parenting, and they knew Aunt Dorothy would provide the place. Later, both of our grandmothers (after both grandfathers died) came to live with our parents for the rest of their lives.

There were other people who also lived with the family in Helena at different times. This does not count people who were only there for a night or three or a week.
We are a very public family. I guess that’s one of the consequences of having the parents that we did.

Dorothy started teaching at Helena High. I think it was for only one year and then Carroll College hired her. She taught there for 30 years in drama and communications. She was a wonderful director of plays, and she sometimes wrote plays for her students, because of their needs. One year there were a couple of Native American students. She wanted them to be able to act out of their own cultural heritage. Several times she had a class with only young women in it. There are very few plays for only women, so she would write one.

Now she wasn’t just a fine director and writer. She was a great actor, and she was in plays at Grand Street all the time. Perhaps the best she ever did was the Grand Street production of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” She was the evil Nurse Ratchet, a theater villain so evil it is almost the perfect opposite of our mother. It was spine chilling to watch her in this role. At the end, when they had curtain calls, she came out in character, sneering at the audience. People were booing our mother! At the same time, they were standing and giving her a thunderous ovation.

She was always learning. She taught three decades at Carroll up into her 70s. She kept taking Spanish classes at Carroll up into her 80s. After she stopped that, she still met with friends to study Spanish. In her mid-90s she was still using her acting ability by recording books for the visually impaired at the state library.

Now, our mother loved our father, and he loved her. That constant love was the foundation of this amazing extended family. They poured love on us five kids: Rusty, Hal, Steve, Nancy and Jannie. They were wild about the people crazy enough to marry us. There’s Pat and Janet and Pam and Mokey and Randy. After our sister Jannie died, Randy married Renee Driessen and so we gained another sister. There were five children and five people who married them and five granddaughters. Robin and Molly, Emily, and Hannah and Becca are here. The reason we are having this celebration today is because this is the only day this year all five of them could be here.

Then there are five men who love them, of whom Justin, Robert and Michael are here. There are five great grandchildren with Juniper and Jasper here. If there were a Harper Crest, it would have a “high five” on it.

We only had four cousins. Dianne and her husband Ron are here.
The other three, Larry and Bonnie and Pam, all died very young. Our parents had their share of sadness. Our sister Jannie died at only 47. Other friends and relatives died, of course, and our parents’ siblings. Our father, the love of Mom’s life, died 10 years ago. If you live to be 99, it’s guaranteed that most of your friends in your life will be gone before you are.

Our parents carried a weight of sorrow with them. And yet, they were always so positive. How is that? I conceive of happiness as a thin lake. It’s fun, it’s a diversion, so it keeps you from thinking about the bad things in life. Joy is more like a deep underground river. It carries along with it the sadness as well. It incorporates it. Our parents live lives of deep joy, even as they carried sorrow with them, because they never forgot.

When Jannie was alive, she and Randy would write wonderful plays — funny, clever, deep plays for use in worship here at Saint Paul’s. Often Dorothy would be cast as “the voice of God” from a microphone up in the balcony. Children grew up here in Saint Paul’s, knowing that God’s voice sounds very much like that of Dorothy Harper.

Jesus was asked once, “Can you sum up all of religion in two sentences?” He said in effect, “Yes. Love God with everything in you. And love your neighbors as yourself — the neighbor being anybody in need.” Our parents tried deliberately to live that way.

One of the consequences for Mom was she almost never complained. I mean, almost never. I’ll tell you how “almost never.” Close to the end of her life, she fell and broke her hip. Again. She was in terrible pain, lying on the floor in her room. A Touchmark aide came running in and said, “Dorothy, are you OK?” She answered the way she always answered that question: “I’m just fine.”

Talk about “never complain.” She was not “just fine.” She was spectacular.

Our mother had a secret superpower. As good as she was as a speaker, and as a writer, and as an actor, she was an even better listener. People told her their life stories. Family members, church members, students at Carroll. You were never surprised if you saw her standing in the parking lot in Safeway putting groceries in the car but listening carefully to someone telling her their troubles. Later, when she was living at Touchmark, she had many friends there. They wanted to sit with her at dinner or come see her because you could tell your story to her, and she was still positive.

Staff at Touchmark were similar. Several times we heard a nurse or an aide come into her room and they’d ask her questions about how she’s doing. Then she would ask them a question or two and they’d start pouring out something that was going on that they really needed to talk about. Dorothy listened with an open heart, so your story was safe with her.

For us Harper kids, we always knew that whatever house we were living in at the time, that was not our home. Our home was where our parents were. Our mother carried her home around with her wherever she went. And wherever she went, she invited her family in, And family included anybody who needed a safe home.

If Dorothy were accorded just a minute to speak to all of us right now — you know, before leaving for that grand reunion; what would she say to us about how to live the good life?

Every one of us kids knows exactly what she would say. It would be only one sentence. It was just what she said to each of us the first day we left home to go to Rocky Mountain College. She said, “Remember who you are, and whose you are.”

We remember, Mom.

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A Sporting Chance

Friends had many fine corrections for my tirade last week about the legislature.

Liz Moore gently reminded me that the category of “mental illness” already carries a stigma that makes it hard for people to ask for help. While some mental illness can lead to violence, it isn’t helpful to include all the good folks with different forms of mental illness in any list of gun violence perpetrators: terrorists, domestic abusers, and the heavily inebriated. Thanks for the very important reminder, Liz.

Ron Waterman wrote, “I believe the motto for the session was ‘If it ain’t broken, break it.’ There was no fixing in any of their actions.” His two lines would have been an excellent replacement for my whole blog.

Mark Hampton bettered my four-point plan for improving politics with this:
1. Establish a generous salary for legislators, and then deduct $10,000 for every new law enacted.
2. Establish a lean salary for the Governor, and then add $10,000 for every new piece of legislation vetoed.
3. Require every elected official to personally attend continuing education instruction every month; three hours each on constitutional law, ethics, and sensitivity training.
(A passing grade of 2.0 might be a stretch, however.)
4. Go back to no highway speed limit for legislators and have them take driver training on the West Boulder Road.

Mark, that has a sporting chance of Making Montana Great Again.

Did I mention sports? Good, because that’s more interesting than politics. I simply cannot wait until the restrictions on spectators are such that my brothers and I can attend high school and college sporting events together in person again.

I do realize that we are sports-deprived in Montana, as almost everywhere else in the US, even when we aren’t in a pandemic. We have to make do with football, basketball, track, hockey, baseball, soccer, golf, rodeo, and car-racing. In Montana you can add fishing tournaments and the annual bets on whose truck will go through the ice on Canyon Ferry Lake in the spring.

Still, we lack the glorious variety of sports found in more civilized countries in the world. For instance, our athletes never get to participate in the Gloucestershire (probably pronounced “Woostershur”) England annual Cheese Rolling festival. The contestants gather at the top of a very steep hill. A large slab of cheese, looking much like a giant hockey puck, is rolled down the hill. The goal is to catch the cheese, which is impossible, because the cheese has a one second head start and can attain a speed of 70 miles per hour, enough to seriously injure spectators. For that reason, the cheese has been replaced in recent years with a lightweight foam rubber disc, but the injuries to competitors racing down the steep and uneven hill continue unabated. Good fun for all.

Not to be outdone, Finland holds the annual Wife Carrying Championships. In a grudging nod to women’s equality, the spouse can be male, but they aren’t changing the name yet. There are no weight limits, and apparently the spouse doesn’t have to be your own. I expect that, like many sports, fights occasionally break out, when some spectators realize whose wife is being carried and where.

Finland used to hold the Annual Sauna World Championships, where people sit in a steaming hot room until they give up or pass out. The starting temperature for the men’s competition was 230 degrees Fahrenheit. I am not making this up. The competition was suspended after 2010 when a competitor died, even though prosecutors decided not to charge the event organizers with negligence. Perhaps the non-prosecution had to do with the deceased being a Russian.

I haven’t even mentioned tuna throwing (as big as a normal adult male human) in South Australia or Hurling in Ireland. No, not hurling in the pubs. It’s a form of field hockey but more dangerous.

Perhaps the sport with the fewest rules is Haxey Hood, played between the towns of Haxey and Westwoodside in England. The Sway (the mob of people around the hood) tries to get the hood (a piece of rolled canvas or leather) into one of four pubs in the two towns, followed by heavy drinking. Women and children usually do not play, I have read, because there is no time limit, and there is only one other rule. The hood cannot be thrown or carried, but must be pushed by moving the whole Sway toward one of the pubs. There are no organized teams. Injuries to participants, spectators, bushes, trees, and even walls are not uncommon. We have a similar game in Helena with just as few rules. It’s called the legislature, but it’s not as much fun and has more long-lasting injuries for spectators and the environment.

Last year Haxey Hood was canceled for the first time in 100 years because of the Covid pandemic. Too bad we didn’t do the same in Helena.

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Legislative Fixes

The legislature is gone and there is a song in our hearts. It’s one of those good old country songs “Ain’t no trash in my trailer since the night I threw you out.”

This legislature seemed to operate on the old axiom, “If it ain’t broke, fix it.” And fix it they did. There has never been an issue with trans youth and sports in Montana, but the Republicans wanted to fix that by telling trans youth they aren’t trans anymore, and by telling doctors what they can and can’t do. There have never been problems with people being unable to murder others with guns in Montana, but they fixed that. Terrorists, domestic abusers, and even the heavily inebriated can now legally carry weapons of mass destruction into almost any place in Montana. It is still illegal to kill people once you are inside, but perhaps the next legislature will fix that.

Montana has not had enough people getting sick and dying of Covid 19 and its related effects. We aren’t number one, but the legislature took a good shot at fixing that. We won’t let health officials do their job, and we won’t allow towns to make decisions for themselves to protect their citizens.

Too many people voting who aren’t voting the right way? Voter suppression is the fix. Not enough taxpayer dollars going to support the burning of coal at Colstrip? Fixed. Too many rights for women and doctors making their own decisions about their bodies? Fixed. Too many towns banning vaping that is hooking their young people on nicotine? Fixed. Are judges making decisions based on the law rather than partisan beliefs? Several fixes are being tried.

So what can we do about this? I have several proposals. 1. Have the voters elect only people who have a basic sense of decency and intelligence. 2. Allow the legislature to meet only every other year. 3. Have the Supreme Court disqualify every law that violates the constitution without regard to politics. 4. Elect a governor who will use common sense, decency, and a regard for the Constitution to veto really bad legislative acts.

OK, so we tried all that, and it didn’t work. I guess my number 5 Proposal is to change our country song from the trailer trash one to the oldie but goodie, “Now that we’re both miserable, I hope you’re happy.”

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Lost or Just Misplaced

Now when I am aging fast (and glad of it because I got both my Covid shots), I often lose or at least misplace things. This morning I realized I have lost my sense of humor. After looking all over the house in the places I usually misplace my glasses and/or keys, I finally did the most sensible thing. I looked on the internet to find out why it’s gone, and where I might have left it.

Fortunately, I found a website for the International Society for Humor Studies. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find anything humorous on the website, unless you consider as funny several extremely serious studies of humor which apparently preclude the researchers from being funny.

I also found several sites on Sigmund Freud and humor. I am not making this up. When you are going back to the old Comedy-Meister himself, you know you are in for real hilarity. In 1905 Freud wrote a book called Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious. (My synopsis of the book: If people are unconscious when you finish the joke, the punchline was too long or the punch was spiked too hard.)

Humor is tough to pin down because we don’t all have the same taste. Some people might think this is funny: Stressing the importance of a good vocabulary, the teacher told her young charges, “Use a word ten times, and it shall be yours for life.” From somewhere in the back of the room came a small male voice chanting, “Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda, Amanda.” OK, not many people think it’s funny, and especially not Amanda, so perhaps that proves my point, whatever it was.

Oh I remember, the point is that school provides a setting where our sense of humor was shaped, so I am revisiting school jokes in my search for my lost or misplaced humor.

The little boy wasn’t getting good marks in school, even though he really liked the young woman who was his teacher. One day he tapped his teacher on the shoulder and said, “I don’t want to scare you, Miss Kneffelcamp, but my daddy says if I don’t get better grades, somebody is going to get a spanking.” There, was that funnier? No? Not for teachers, I suppose. OK, not for me either.

Could I have left my sense of humor someplace that I no longer want to go because of the Covid restrictions? The airlines! That could be it. Maybe I left it in the overhead rack the last time I got off a flight.

Before the pandemic, a man got on a plane in first class. The flight attendant brought in a parrot and put it on the seat next to him. The man asked the parrot, “What are you doing here?” The parrot said, “My owners are billionaires. They let me go wherever I want as long as I am back by Saturday night to entertain their guests.

After the plane got into the air, the flight attendant started serving drinks. “Hey you, dumb and ugly,” the parrot shouted at the flight attendant, “what’s the matter with you? Can’t you see I need a drink here?” She hurried over to bring a drink to the parrot. The man said, “Pardon me, ma’am, I need a drink,” but she turned away and started serving others.

The parrot shouted at the woman again, “You with the huge thighs, don’t you know I need peanuts to go with my drink?” Once again, the attendant stopped what she was doing and hurried to bring the parrot a packet of peanuts. “Pardon me, ma’am,” the man started, but she rushed back down the aisle where she had been serving before.

“I get it,” exclaimed the man to the parrot. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease. I can do this.” The man shouted toward the busy flight attendant, “Hey you, hippo lady, waddle on up here and give me a drink and do it right now.” The flight attendant nearly ran up to the cockpit. A second later, the enormous co-pilot came out. With one hand he grabbed the parrot, and with the other he yanked the man out of his seat. The co-pilot hauled them down the aisle, opened the exit door of the plane, and threw them both out.

On the way down, the parrot said to the man, You’ve got a pretty bad mouth for a guy who can’t fly.

Was that funnier? Not really? Hoo boy, I really have lost it. Dont worry. I’ll keep looking. Did I leave it at my last doctor’s appointment? That was my urologist. No, Pat will never approve of me finding urologist jokes. Sorry, no humor in this Friday Good News.

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