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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Don’t Confuse Me with Facts

I can be downright intolerant toward people like climate deniers and anti-vaxxers who don’t believe in science; but if I stop to think, I can understand them. Many of their ridiculous beliefs are just common sense, sort of.

Will vaccine protect me from Covid? Not necessarily. Even with two Pfizer shots, I am only 95% protected, according to scientific studies. So why would a person get a shot that won’t provide absolute protection, and will probably hurt, when that person is 100% certain that he or she might not get the virus without the shot and might get the virus even with the shot? That is common sense. I didn’t say common sense is always smart.

Think about the folks who don’t believe in evolution, despite the scientists saying that all the covid variations are evolution at work. As far as common sense goes, I can’t see any difference in viruses. If evolution were real, humans would be getting smarter. Scientific observation will confirm that’s not the case, or we would all believe in evolution. See there?

A few still believe the earth is flat. Common sense is completely on their side. Well, not completely. In Iowa the earth is flat, but in Montana it is bumpy. But if the earth were round, people on the bottom would obviously fall off. If the earth were spinning around at roughly 1000 miles an hour, we would fly off into space. Common sense.

Common sense says the sun goes around the earth, not the other way around. The Bible is very clear about that. The writer of Ecclesiastes in chapter 1, verse 5, says, “The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises.” Well, duh. Anyone can see that. What you can’t see is the earth turning.

So far I’m being facetious about not believing science, but there are some “scientific facts” I don’t believe. Scientific classification says that a tomato is a fruit rather than a vegetable. Because of scientists, Merriam Webster defines it this way: “Any thing that grows on a plant and is the means by which that plant gets its seeds out into the world is a fruit.”

By the scientific classification method, tomatoes, bell peppers, string beans, pea pods (but not the peas “they are seeds”), jalapaῆo peppers, corn, and olives are all fruit.

Of course I don’t believe that. Tomatoes and all that other stuff except jalapaῆos taste like vegetables. Jalapaῆos must be a spice. Not facts, but common sense.

Scientific classification says Old World buffalo (Cape buffalo and water buffalo) are native to Africa and Asia. Bison are found in North America and Europe. Both bison and buffalo are in the bovidae family, but the two are not closely related.

No one in Montana believes that. I have seen buffalo in Yellowstone Park with my own eyes. I have seen buffalo on the National Bison Range near Charlo. OK, I am slipping into Trump-land where something is true if lots of other non-scientific people believe it. Face it, on some topics we are all in this together where we don’t know everything and wouldn’t much care if we did.

Of course, it doesn’t make much difference to our lives whether we think a tomato is a vegetable, or the sun goes around the earth, or bison are buffalo.

It doesn’t make any difference to our daily lives if we believe vaccines are more dangerous than non-vaccines. Unless of course we get the virus and die. Or worse, get a mild case and pass it on to kill someone’s grandparents. Then it’s deadly dumb.

Not believing that we need to do something to address climate change won’t make any difference in our lives. We could even join Montanans for Climate Change, hoping that winters for us old Montana people will get so warm we won’t even think about Arizona, and we will have beach front property on the other side of the Big Belt Mountains. Of course, hundreds of millions will die all over the world in the future if nothing is done, but we will be gone by then, so who cares?

What are we having for dessert tonight, Pat? Tomatoes? Really? Don’t try to confuse me with facts. Judging by my lack of action on doing my part pushing for action on climate change and overcoming anti-vax fears, I’m not that different from the science deniers. I have met the enemy and he is me.

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National Grammar Day

Yesterday was National Grammar Day, which probably explains all the fireworks and horn honking last night. It is the day when we say hooray for Martha Brockenbrough. She was the founder of SPOGG (the Society for the Promotion Of Good Grammar). To be literal, the acronym should have been TSFTPOGG, but that doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily.

Martha and SPOGG got National Grammar Day established in 2008. President George W. Bush sent out a letter extolling the day, which is a little bit funny, given his tenuous connection to the language. A laugh riot would have been ex-President Trump doing the same. He wouldn’t know his grammar if she slapped him in the face.

I celebrated at our house yesterday by correcting Pat’s grammar once, which didn’t get us in a very festive mood. How can a guy be right and still be terribly wrong at the same time? That should have been in the dumb questions blog.

Grammar used to be part of one of my jobs. I was a Deputy Secretary of State in charge of Administrative Rules and Notaries Public. I can visualize you turning green with envy.

Debra was the Rules Queen and Cinda was the Rules Princess back then. I was their nominal supervisor. They would have wonderful arguments with each other about grammar and would occasionally include me since I am an English major. One of my daughters gave me a t-shirt that read “I’m silently correcting your grammar..” I couldn’t wear it at work, because the job of Administrative Rules was to correct the grammar of every other state agency proposing rules, and we weren’t silent about it. We should have had t-shirts reading “Administrative Rules Rules.” Sometimes Debra and Cinda would correct the posters that others put up at work.

I don’t think they ever explicitly told agencies “Whenever you make a plural by using an apostrophe, a puppy dies,” but they talked about doing it.

You may not think I know grammar because the Friday Good News contains so many grammatical mistakes. Especially sentence fragments. Or beginning a sentence with “or.” It’s on purpose, I tell you, in order to sound like speech rather than writing. (The speech of a person who doesn’t know grammar.)

It’s not that I don’t know better. My mother corrected us children frequently and taught us all the correct use of the tenses of “lie” and “lay,” and to not split infinitives. Oops.  I still try to observe the “Oxford comma,” which is the second comma in a series of three items. The comma after puppies in the sentence “The bag held bunnies, puppies, and alligators.” is the Oxford comma. Don’t tell me you didn’t know that. You’re just pulling my leg now.

On Grammar Day, grade-schoolers chant, “Let’s eat, grandma. Grammar saves lives.” The higher grades chant, “A simile is like a metaphor.”

My mother would approve of elevating the discourse. My father’s grammar was fair, because it had to be. Granted, he talked about the boy in his geometry class studying the area of a circle. When asked to explain what A=πr ² means (for us English types, that’s pronounced “A equals pie r squared”), the boy replied, “That means the equation is wrong. Pie are round. Cake are squared.” That joke is as old as pie, cake, and grammar. Did you notice the proper use of the Oxford comma in that last sentence? No? Do I have to send my mother to your house?

That takes us far afield from the main point. The erosion of good grammar is responsible for accelerating hard drug use, the refusal to wear masks, climate change, and the erosion of democracy in the US. By the way, the comma after the Oxford comma in that previous sentence is called the Rocky Mountain College comma. See, you’ve learned something already.

Grammar is a set of conventions on which all the educated speakers of a language agree. It governs our linguistic endeavors, which in turn control our ability to think. Once the grammatical structures of a society start slipping, anything goes. If we the people can’t use the various tenses of “lie” and “lay” properly, is it any wonder that falsehoods and sexual innuendo pervade every part of the media. You may need to read that last sentence again.

Did you know that good grammarians believe that Donald Trump’s inability to speak or write correctly presaged all the other ills of the last four years? I just made that up, but it’s probably true.

Now that we know whom to blame and why, I hope you won’t be asking me to sign a good-grammar pledge to keep me from trashing up the Friday Good News in my vain attempt to appear to be one of the masses. Ain’t gonna happen. The only people who really appreciate bad grammar are those of us who know most of the rules and can relish when we violate them. Not to mention my mother, who will not like being included in this sentence fragment, nor in the implication that she ever deliberately used bad grammar unless she were acting in a play. She would do it, but she wouldn’t like it.

But, you can’t blame me for everything from climate change to apathy about defeating lying politicians because of my shady grammar. I know what’s right. Mostly, but just don’t do it. Oops. I suppose that’s what most of us say about everything wrong with our country.

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Dumb Questions and Dumb Answers

As we age, we change the dumb questions that we ask.  As children, we asked questions like “Why is the sky blue?” and “Why is there war?” and “Why don’t the rich people just share with the poor people so nobody would be hungry?”  They are dumb questions only because adults don’t know a good answer. 

 As children get older, their dumb questions get harder, so we parents resort to tried-and-true answers like “Because I said so.”  This is usually every bit as satisfactory as the answers we gave to “Why is there war?”

In an attempt to get children and youth to ask questions, teachers often maintain that there is no such thing as a dumb question. Asking is essential for learning.

Of course, the teachers are not completely correct. These are dumb questions we ask at a later age:

Do Roman paramedics refer to IV’s as “4’s”?

What do people in China call their good plates?

Why do people tell you when they are speechless?

What happens if you’re half-scared to death, twice?

Do television evangelists do more than laypeople?

We used to live in a science-based world in which questions had actual answers based on what we used to call “facts.” This led to college science students chanting, “What do we want? Facts. When do we want them? After peer review.”

Now in America, facts are no longer facts. If you don’t like the concept of climate change, you simply say, “I don’t believe it.” If you don’t like the outcome of an election, “I don’t believe it.” This is much easier then trying to ascertain what corresponds to reality.

If there are no more actual answers that apply to everyone, then are there any dumb question anymore? Yes, that was one.

The wrong dumb question can bring even dumber answers.

For instance, one really dumb question is “If people in bars consume alcohol that makes many people both dumber and more violent, how can we make bars safer?”

That is a particularly dumb question to ask when a Republican-controlled legislature is in town, because they gave the answer and our Republican governor agreed. Make them safer by allowing everyone to carry a concealed weapon into any bar (or bank or college campus or government building) without any training or licensing of any kind.

That was the story on the front page of the Helena IR today. Democrats voted no. Republican proponents of the bill really said everyplace would be safer. Really dumb questions can lead to deadly dumb answers from people untethered from facts.

Don’t you long for the good old days when we had dumb questions like

“Should I tell my parents I’m adopted?”

Or, if you are a member of QAnon, “Did NASA invent thunderstorms to cover up the sound of space battles?”

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Be My Valentine Anyway?

We live in a time when the former President accomplished what no other nation has done since the British took over our Capitol building in the War of 1812. It is amazing what a person with a bully pulpit can do if he repeats lies over and over.

We also live in a time when that same person and his minions did what no other nation could do. The nation with the best medical research and the most money in the world became the clear world leader in deaths from Covid19. Lies were once again essential for gaining the top spot.

I won’t lie to you. I long for a simpler time when on Valentine’s Day you tried to come up with silly love poems to put all depressing thoughts out of your head.

I haven’t written poetry in quite a long time, but I assume it’s like riding a bicycle. If you do it in traffic, you can be seriously injured. When writing, you have to wait until the words well up from your subconscious source of creativity. That’s my excuse for the following:

Complaint of the Suitor Who Doesn’t Know When to Keep His Hands to Himself

I love your eyes, they shine like stars.
I love your mouth like chocolate bars.
I love your ears like ocean shells.
I love your nose, the way it smells.

I love your heart, it beats ba-boom,
I love your curves, say va-va-voom.
I love your charm, your style, your grace,
But not your hands that slap my face.

Two points: 1. That isn’t autobiographical. 2. The amazing Amanda Gorman is not worried that I will be appointed the first geezer poet laureate.

Hey, it is -15 outside right now, and it takes a little time to warm up your subconscious creativity center. I relaxed and my subconscious coughed up another hairball.

Beware of Cupid
On Valentine’s Day near our house you might see
A short naked dude with a bow and some arrows.
Just give him a wave, for he surely must be
The drunk two blocks down who’s out hunting for sparrows.

Will Pat love me more than she already does if I give her these poems? I didn’t think so. Maybe I’m too old for this sort of thing. I’ll have to dust off one I wrote a couple of years ago when I was much younger. It’s worth a try.

When Patty Smiles
When Patty smiles, the chickadees
All giggle and they slap their knees.
Bird snickers fill the morning breeze,
When Patty smiles.

When Patty laughs, the flowers bloom,
The sun breaks through the clouds of gloom,
And joy plays tag from room to room,
When Patty laughs.

When Patty hugs, I’m near to tears
Of gratitude. My heart still cheers —
She loves me after all these years!
When Patty hugs.

Maybe she’ll still be my valentine, even though I’m going to lose my poetic license.

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The Good Old Days

Don’t you long for the good old days? I mean the wonderful years of, say, ten or twelve years ago. The only talk of virus was “Did you get your flu shot?” If some individual attacked school children because they spoke out as survivors of mass murder at their school, and if that individual called them actors who made it all up, then such a sick individual was called “wacko” or “deeply disturbed,” rather than “Representative.”

Those were good times when the loser of the electoral college vote, whether Republican or Democrat, graciously conceded to the winner, even if the loser had obtained more total popular votes in the nation. Those were times when protecting the constitution meant abiding by the constitution and the laws of the land, rather than using lies to stir up millions of domestic terrorists to try to overturn the election by killing the opposition.

As I was deleting ancient computer files yesterday, I ran across a Friday Good News I wrote back in July of 2008. It has nothing to do with national or international problems. What a simple column from a simpleton writer in simpler times. Here it is.

July 27, 2008 Friday Good News

Good news doesn’t have to be good. It can just be “not bad.” With that in mind, consider how much better you are doing than:

Phillip Boucher, who gunned his Buick LeSabre to try to cross the rising drawbridge in St. Catherine’s, Ontario, and he almost made it.

Mara Ranger of Gorham, Maine, who can be seen on the CNN front web page as an eight-foot python is pulled from her washing machine.

James Kevin Pope, of Weatherford, Texas, who was convicted on 40 counts of sexual assault on three teenage girls and sentenced to 40 consecutive life sentences or 4060 years. He will be eligible for parole in 3209.

An unidentified Mesa, Arizona man, picked up by the police when neighbors called in about a violent domestic dispute. Police found only the one man, arguing with himself and changing his voice from high to low as he switched parts, all the while breaking windows and furniture in the apartment.

David Gebhart of Manchester, Connecticut, while wearing a thong, a wig and a brassiere was picked up by police because pedestrians are not allowed on the interstate.

Carol Greta, lawyer for the Iowa Department of Education, who had to defend publicly the department’s decision to throw out applications from 30 districts for preschool grants because “they weren’t double-spaced,” as stated in the instructions. Among the discarded applications was one from Danville which the superintendent claimed was double-spaced in Apple Works, which appears smaller when viewed with Microsoft Word.

Unless some of these are your relatives, you can relax, knowing that you’ve got it good this Friday. Rusty

February 5, 2021: Wouldn’t it be fine if those were the only shocking news headlines now?

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Trump is Gone?

Good news? We survived the pandemic so far, except for 400,000+ of us and about 3000 more every day. We live in the nation with perhaps the most advanced medical and research facilities in the world, but when you choose bad leaders, you get to be the worst nation in the world for handling the COVID. It is our own fault.

As a bonus, those same leadership qualities in the people we elected caused America to cease being the leader of the free world. We demeaned our allies, cozied up to dictators, and became the laughingstock of the whole world — democracies and authoritarian countries alike. Our bad.

Good news? Comedians all over the world came up with some great routines. Here is comedy from the Netherlands. I hope this link works.

Good news? As stupid as we are as a nation, we had enough sense to elect somebody better. We still came within an eyelash of having a loser of a president take over the country by lies and encouraging violence. If he and his followers had been smarter, they could have killed everyone in Congress (and maybe the Supreme Court as well) and tried to establish a perpetual president. We pulled through, by the skin of our teeth, although democracy is still hanging in the balance when nearly half the nation doesn’t trust the free press, the courts, or the electoral system.

Really good news? Now we have a president who believes in science and in the advice of smart people instead of incompetent fools. We have a spectacular multiple-glass-ceiling-breaking vice-president. And, if the link below works, you can hear the kind of inspirational songs comedians are now doing:

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