All posts by Lars Walker

A Land Fit For Criminals

Mike Johnson sent me the following link to a review by (the great) Theodore Dalrymple of the book A Land Fit For Criminals by David Fraser. It’s about the criminal justice system in Great Britain today.

He shows that liberal intellectuals and their bureaucratic allies have left no stone unturned to ensure that the law-abiding should be left as defenseless as possible against the predations of criminals, from the emasculation of the police to the devising of punishments that do not punish and the propagation of sophistry by experts to mislead and confuse the public about what is happening in society, confusion rendering the public helpless in the face of the experimentation perpetrated upon it.

My observation is that what happens in Europe generally works its way to America in time.

True or false: pick one

Romans 3:1-8 is a passage that’s always puzzled me. It’s not that I disagree with what’s said there, but Paul seems to be addressing First Century arguments that nobody would make today, and that confuses the contemporary reader.

But reading it today, it occurred to me that Paul is addressing the modern mind in one sense:

But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, “If my falsehood enhances God’s truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?” Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—“Let us do evil that good may result”? Their condemnation is deserved. (vv. 5-8, NIV)

There are doubtless many deep truths in this passage that I’ve missed so far. That’s a given. But one point that struck me as I studied it today was that Paul is drawing a line here. He’s saying, “There is a difference between right and wrong. It’s not just a matter of point of view. It’s not variability in cultural values. God approves of some things and condemns others. He’s not broad-minded in the sense that’s fashionable today.

There’s a tendency to think of “spiritual” as being the same thing as “fuzzy.” In the spiritual realm, we imagine, all differences are smoothed out. All disagreements are discovered to be meaningless. Right and wrong are seen as equally valid manifestations of the Eternal. Yahweh and Baal are really the same Being, as is Asherah.

Paul says “Hooey.” God is just, and He has told us what He means by justice. Don’t imagine it’ll all even out in the end. Get with His program or suffer the consequences.

We’re all on notice.

First day of vacation

Today was the first day of my week off from work. I took a walk for exercise, wrote a thousand words, and picked up a few needed items, including a rat trap. I don’t have rats, but I have chipmunks attempting to take up housekeeping in my garage. My instinct is to live and let live (perhaps charging a nominal rent), but people tell me chipmunks are prone to gnaw on your car’s wiring, so I’ve declared Total War. Three chipmunks have been liquidated to date, and I felt it was time for a new trap.

I have a higher regard for my white squirrel. One day last winter, shortly after I’d moved in, I was talking to my brother Moloch on the phone, and I saw an albino squirrel in the back yard. On Saturday I saw him again, in the front yard. Albinos are rare in the wild, being pretty easy targets for predators, but I suppose an urban environment provides better cover.

I feel an affinity, for some strange reason, with any creature ill-designed for survival by nature.

By way of Blue Crab Boulevard, some very nifty, downloadable inspirational posters based on the original Star Trek. I love this kind of swill.

Several things, all of them bad

I don’t mean to rag on the Presbyterians as a group. I worshiped at a PCA church for some time in Florida, and it was one of the finest churches I’ve ever been associated with. But this story about the PCUSA (via Town Hall Blog) takes my breath away. It’s not enough for these people to apostasize. That’s appalling, but it’s sort of old news. We’ve come to expect it from them. But the PCUSA has published a book promoting the view that the Bush administration engineered the 9/11 attacks, a position generally held by people who’ve forgotten to take their medication because it fell through a hole in their raincoat pockets while they were fishing for lunch in a dumpster. From a materialist point of view, heresy is sort of understandable, because true doctrine can’t be scientifically proven. But these people have lost touch even with this-worldly reality.

Not that I don’t believe in conspiracies. I’m growing more and more convinced that the people who run road construction in the Twin Cities conspire to make their construction projects as inconvenient to the public as possible. Not for money. Not because of political corruption. But just because it’s so much fun to sit down around a map with their coffee and bagels and draw a red circle around a neighborhood, then pose the question, “How can we completely cut this neighborhood off from the outside world, blocking not only the primary but the secondary routes into it?”

Such is the fate of my pleasant little part of Robbinsdale. I dwell in a sort of a bottleneck—not the useful kind that could easily be defended if the Assyrians attacked (a possibility that grows more and more likely with the passing years), but a traffic bottleneck. I live to the east of a park. Not far north of the park is a freeway. Not far to the south is a lake. My workplace is to the west. The practical jokers tore up the main artery yesterday, while I was at work. I made the mistake of following their “Detour” signs on the way home, and ended up lost in Brooklyn Park. I’ve found a way to get home from work (and vice versa) now, but it involves passing through a construction zone.

Commenter Aitchmark sent me the following entertaining review. At his request, because he is a tenderhearted man, I have excised the name of the author and the title of the book:

I kind of enjoyed ___________’s recreation of classic kid SF in _____________, so I went into the online system for the library and put a hold on the sequel____________.

Well, there’s another book with the title ___________, and in some kind of mental glitch, I clicked the right title but the wrong author. So I ended up with a cop thriller called ___________ by a fellow named _____________.

One of the worst pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Unimaginably bad. Bad grammar, bad diction, one gaping howler of disregard for reality after another, plot transparently ripped off from another book….

Example — a burglar gets killed by a booby trapped clock that fires a 2-inch dart at him…. which injects 6 ounces of snake venom.

Must have been from a neutronium snake.

And the writing….

“The darkness enveloped him with the suddenness of an unexpected physical attack.”

“An investigation that had nearly gotten him killed but had brought him and Detective Edna Gray very close together.” (yes, that’s the complete sentence)

I can’t go on. It’s just too much.

This is the guy’s 5th published book!

I’ve read 37 pages (Carmen challenged me to read 50). I can’t decide whether to just take it back to the library, or keep slogging through it to see how bad it can get.

Be careful if you see this book. It may rub off on you. Like a virus. A big, nasty virus that hurts people and sometimes even kills them. Dead. And dead is forever. So you have been warned. In case it infects your brain and makes you less intelligent than you were before reading the terrible book, you won’t be able to say you weren’t warned emphatically by me. Who warned you to be careful and think before picking up this terrible tome.

(help me. please… help me. Send Shakespeare or something. Fast.)

The saga of sailor and the shoes

Yesterday I wrote about instructors who will always get their book orders in just after I’ve been on the phone with the publishers.

That puts me in mind of one of my favorite stories. I shall share it now, even though I know most of you have probably heard it before.

Because in cyberspace, no one can hear you scream.

The date was December 6, 1941. A young man took his shoes in to a shop to be re-soled.

The next day, of course, he forgot all about the shoes, because of the news of Pearl Harbor. He did his patriotic duty by enlisting in the Navy immediately.

He saw considerable action in the Pacific. One day late in the war his ship was torpedoed, and went down with great loss of life. Our hero managed to clamber into a lifeboat alone. He floated for days, finally washing up on the shores of a remote island, far from the shipping lanes.

For 25 years he remained on that island. He was listed as Missing In Action.

Finally a passing freighter saw his smoke signal and he was rescued. Back at home he was hailed as a hero.

His delighted parents showed him his old room, which they’d preserved precisely as it had been the day he left home.

After his parents had gone to bed, the young man looked through his well-remembered possessions. He tried on an old suit, put his hand in the pocket, and discovered the shoe repair claim ticket.

“Could the shoes still be there?” he wondered. “Only one way to find out.”

The next day he took a bus to the shoe repair shop. He found it still in business, and inside, older and grayer, he found the same shoe repairman.

“Are these shoes ready?” he asked with a smile, handing the old man the ticket.

The old man looked at the ticket, then went into the back room. A moment later he popped his head out.

“Have ’em for you Thursday,” he said.

Mission accomplished, sort of

Via Michelle Malkin: This historical evidence of Zionist perfidy.

I had a busy day today. I got in all my book orders for the fall, which means of course that a couple hours later, one last instructor came in with his list, which I’ll have to call in tomorrow. No big deal. But I know that if I’d made the order Monday, he’d have brought it in on Monday afternoon.

Now I’m going to reward myself by taking a vacation week starting Monday (pending my boss’s approval). I propose to go nowhere on this vacation. I’ll stay home, vegetate, and (hopefully) work on my book. Travel is nice, but staying home and doing whatever I like is the real luxury.

I’ll keep blogging, though.

When I feel like it.

The Big Law by Chuck Logan

Chuck Logan was recommended to me as a good thriller writer who, like John Sandford, lives in and writes about Minnesota.

I can’t say that I won’t read any more of his books. But I’m afraid I liked this one a lot less than I hoped to.

I would have preferred to start with the first book in the Phil Broker series, Absolute Zero, but my bookstore didn’t have a copy. So I went with Number Two, The Big Law.

I’ve written before about male fantasy figures as series heroes. I think Phil Broker (mostly) fits into this category. He’s rich as a result of finding a huge treasure of gold in a foreign land. He lives in his own big, rustic house on the shore of Lake Superior, having retired young from police work. Over his fireplace he has hung a Viking dragon’s head ship’s prow (that wins him points with me).

On the other hand, most male fantasies don’t include raising a baby singlehanded.

Phil has a wife, a female soldier (and hero). She has returned to active service and is currently serving in Bosnia (the book was published in 1998) when Broker gets involved in a case involving his ex-wife, Caren Angland.

Caren calls him unexpectedly, asking to come and see him. She’s frightened. She’s married now to Keith Angland, another cop and Phil’s former friend. She has proof that Keith is crooked. That he has taken money from the Russian mafia and murdered an informant.

As she flees her husband, Caren picks up a newspaper reporter, Tom James, who is supposed to document the story. But Keith follows and gets to Phil’s house ahead of her. In the violence that follows, Caren falls into a waterfall to her death, Tom James gets shot, and Keith is arrested for Caren’s murder.

But if that’s the end of the story, why do both Phil and his soldier wife get threatening letters shortly afterward?

And what happened to the money Keith got from the mob?

Chuck Logan is a good writer. The story builds tension nicely. The writing is fresh and sharp. Logan chooses his words carefully, and places them for maximum effect.

And yet… I had trouble caring much.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I couldn’t identify with Phil Broker. I can’t point to a single defect in Logan’s depiction of his character.

But I felt like I couldn’t get near the man. He never came alive for me. Even though he displays great passion in his concern to protect his baby daughter, he never gets my full sympathy.

I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be able to analyze these things. But I can’t identify what’s wrong here.

I’ll probably have to read another in the series to see if the problem is Logan’s or mine.

Once Upon a Time at the movies

Today has been gorgeous in the City of Lakes and its environs. The weekend’s blessed rains washed the humidity out, and the temperature stayed south of 80. This is what outsiders imagine a Minnesota summer day to be like, but it happens all too rarely in real life.

By way of Gene Edward Veith’s Cranach blog, I have discovered one of the funniest blogs I’ve ever read. Luther at the Movies purports to be film criticism as practiced by Dr. Luther, whose natural exuberance cannot be stifled by the mere accident of death. If this doesn’t win all you thin-blooded Calvinists over, I don’t know what will.

I bought the DVD of Once Upon a Time in the West a while back, and I watched it yesterday. What an incredible piece of work that film is.

If I were to read the things I’m about to write about a movie I hadn’t yet seen, I’d probably boycott it for life. Fortunately for me, I first saw the movie without knowing anything about it (I’d never even seen an Italian Western before), so I was caught in the majesty and sweep of the thing, and nothing I’ve learned since can cut that visceral connection.

It was 1969, my second year of college. I had an evening at loose ends, and decided I wanted to see a movie. This western was playing at the theater in Forest City, Iowa, so I walked downtown to see it.

It was the strangest western I’d ever seen. Parts of it troubled me a great deal.

But it stuck in my head as few movies ever have.

Westerns are generally “about” scenery, when it comes down to it, and OUATITW certainly lays the scenery on heavy. It was filmed both in Spain and in the United States, and director Sergio Leone used John Ford’s iconic Monument Valley to particular effect. On a big screen, the spectacle is breathtaking.

But even more than scenery, this movie is about music. One of the commentators on the DVD notes that the film was shot like a music video. Before there was a script, the genius Ennio Morricone, who’d already done the classic scores for the “Dollars” movies, wrote the music. The script was built on that. I’d nominate it as the greatest film score ever written, and there are those who agree with me (actually I agree with them, but I’m on an ego trip here).

They don’t make movies like this nowadays. Today’s action movies are all about speed. Forget plot consistency. Forget character development. Just put bodies in motion and crash them into each other a lot. Blow things up. Set things on fire.

Once Upon a Time in the West is purposely slow, like Henry Fonda’s walk. It’s about tension that builds and builds, from Charles Bronson’s shoot-out with three familiar gunmen at the beginning, to his and Henry Fonda’s climactic showdown, in a corral around which the whole world revolves.

Slowly.

Mysteries abound. What was Brett McBain’s secret? Why is Charles Bronson pursuing Henry Fonda, and what is the meaning of Bronson’s recurring flashback of a man walking toward him? How can any heterosexual male manage to spend time around Claudia Cardinale without spontaneously combusting?

There’s a political subtext, I’m afraid. At the time some people congratulated the Italian Westerns for bringing to us a newer, grittier, more realistic picture of the American West than the old Westerns had.

This is balderdash. Even granting that the old movies were bowdlerized (of course they were), that doesn’t mean that the kind of cynical violence and cruelty we see in spaghetti westerns is closer to reality. Cowboys were Victorians. Yes, there was a lot of prostitution in the West, but men still took their hats off to ladies, regardless of their reputations. Even cold-blooded killers like Kid Curry, or genuine psychopaths like John Wesley Hardin never killed innocent people for sport (not white people, anyway). They believed in virtue and considered themselves respectable men. Jesse James taught Sunday School off and on.

When Sergio Leone shows us Henry Fonda murdering a little boy, he has a purpose in mind. He wants Americans to think differently about themselves and their history. He wants the viewer never to be able to watch My Darling Clementine or Young Mr. Lincoln the same way again.

And he succeeded. More’s the pity, in my opinion.

But the spectacle. The music. I can’t get free of Once Upon a Time in the West.

Fuzzy-minded Friday

What will I do? I have nowhere to go this weekend. No Viking events. No battles. No family reunions. Just me and the house maintenance I’ve been putting off. It’s a pathetic man who has to make out his own Honey-do list.

I’m at loose ends. Here are a couple random links for you to study while I mutter and paw through my junk drawer in search of… I forget what.

Aitchmark, apparently having forgiven me for my anti-feline hate speech yesterday, sent me this amusing page from Merriam-Webster, with a list of favorite unofficial words.

Gene Edward Veith posted a link to this article about three new movies and an opera, all about Beowulf. No doubt they’ll all bomb, convincing publishers that no one’s interested in matters Norse, and assuring that I’ll never find another publisher.

Am I just sensitive, or isn’t it a form of racism to be unable to do a movie about an ancient Scandinavian without making the hero half black?

But I like Angelina Jolie for Grendel’s mother. I’ve always seen her as a kind of a monster. This is a woman whose appeal escapes me entirely.

To quote Oscar Levant, speaking of Madame Nu (at the time First Lady of South Vietnam): “She has all the wistfulness of an iron foundry.”

The other shoe drops

Or “another shoe.” There’ll doubtless be more.

While we were putting up my rain gutters, my brother Baal noticed that my shingles didn’t look good.

I consulted the documentation on the last roofing job. It was done in 1996. Twenty-five year warranty.

But that’s only on materials.

I called my real estate agent. He recommended a roofer who attends our church to come out and look at the situation. The guy came out today.

All bad news.

The problem is not the material. The shingles were improperly installed. By a company that’s out of business, so I can’t pursue them with fire and sword.

I’m smack out of luck. I’ll have to spring for new shingles.

I really need to find a publisher again.

By way of Mirabilis (again), I offer this story purely for the purpose of aggravating Aitchmark.

Could it be that the escalating wussification of our culture doesn’t come from bad education and effete entertainment, but from a cat parasite we’ve picked up?

Read and decide for yourselves.

Then go down to the river and drown your cat.

(I’m a Roofing Victim. You were expecting sweetness and light?)

My inner demons remain repressed

Two young women came to my door and rang the bell a few minutes ago. One’s left arm had been amputated at the elbow, and she wore a nose ring. The other didn’t make much of an impression on me, other than that she wore her hair cut short.

“Hi! I’m So-and-so, and this is my bodyguard Such-and-such,” the memorable one said. “We’re organizing the neighborhood for NARAL.” She tried to hand me a packet of literature.

“I’m pro-life,” I said.

“OK,” she said with a smile. They walked away and I closed the door.

Doubtless they heaved a sigh of relief that they’d once again escaped the inherent violence of all Christianist oppressors.

Of course, it’s true that I do have a sword in my house. More than one, in fact.

Today was Conspiracy Day on Michael Medved’s show. Always the best entertainment of the month.

I’d like to make it perfectly clear that there is no truth at all to the rumor that the world is secretly run, not by the Masonic Lodge, but by the Sons of Norway. There is even less truth to the rumor that the Viking Age Club and Society of the SON is the super-secret Inner Council of that world-wide conspiracy.

Just so you know.

I mentioned the Blue Crab Boulevard blog the other day. I only discovered it recently, but it’s rapidly becoming one of my favorites. It’s almost perfect. Some serious information. Some whimsy. Some screamingly funny satire. And he updates several times a day.

Does his boss know what he’s doing on company time? Is he independently wealthy?

Well, he should be. He does a great blog.

The black man’s burden

There was a Polynesian dance class going on in the park by Lake Crystal today as I took my constitutional. Sorry. Erase the picture that sentence generated in your mind. It wasn’t like my (and probably your) stereotyped fantasy of Polynesian dance. In fact, I’m not entirely sure it was Polynesian dance. I drew that conclusion because the teachers looked Polynesian to me, and the motions the students made looked more like something from the South Seas than anything else I could think of.

No, there were no nubile girls in grass skirts there, wiggling their firm, fetching brown hips. This was two lines of mostly middle-aged white people, doing a step-step-while-making-a-sort-of-rowing-motion-with-the-hands. I immediately judged them all former hippies, striving for some kind of multicultural salvation.

I felt particularly bad for the guys in the group, who were no doubt married to (or living with) women in the group who’d dragged them along. I’d be willing to wager that, if you got enough beers in them to get them to tell the truth (like Mel Gibson), they’d admit that if they had to make fools of themselves in public, they’d rather do live steel with the Vikings and me. Only their Significant Others wouldn’t let them, and the folks down at the Whole Foods store would never understand.

There. You know what one of my prejudices is.

Which brings me to this article, by way of Mirabilis:

With church-going on the wane in Europe, Africa’s vibrant Protestant churches are sending scores of men like Mukholi to the West to win souls and revitalize shrinking congregations — an ironic twist on the 19th century drive by Western missionaries to convert Africans.

I’ve been waiting for this for years. I have doubts whether Europe is salvageable anymore at this point, but it seems to me that if it is to be saved, this will be an important element.

It all depends on racism. Racism isn’t dead. Not here in America, and not in Europe. It’s just turned itself inside out. Instead of the nasty white people of the last century, who thought themselves Nature’s Pinnacle, looking down on the vile dark races, today’s white racist despises his own race and idealizes those blessed richly with melatonin. It’s been noted by other writers before me that whenever an author or scriptwriter wants a character to deliver a Message from God nowadays, he generally puts that message in the mouth of someone black. Preferably someone old and black.

This makes a lot of sense. It’s a rare old black person who hasn’t seen a lot of hate and injustice, and just surviving a long time under those conditions implies that they must have learned something.

But our respect for black people in the West goes far beyond this. It amounts to pure veneration. Idealization. That’s why the U.N. will never do anything about genocide in Africa, as long as it’s blacks killing blacks. To take action would be to admit that black people aren’t morally superior, and that would be a death-blow to their faith.

It is a little cynical, I suppose, to exploit this white racism for evangelistic purposes, but I’m basically a pragmatist. Whatever works, I’ll pretty much support.

The second reason I like this strategy is for its genuine educational value. African Christians know a whole lot about Islam and paganism, and they know it first-hand, not from New Age books and television documentaries.

I met an African man who went to our seminary a while back. I didn’t know him well, but he had an interesting story. He’d been an Olympic athlete for his country of origin. After converting to Christianity, he’d attended a mainline Lutheran seminary in the U.S. He left it angrily when a Comparative Religions professor assigned his class to attend a mosque.

“I do not need to attend a mosque to learn about Islam,” the man said. “I know about Islam.” He finished his seminary training with us.

The same sort of thing goes for paganism. People who’ve actually been pagans know it’s not about pretty naked women dancing under the stars. It’s about superstition and the constant fear of breaking taboos. It’s about sticky blood and sacrifice and ugliness.

So God bless the African missionaries. May He speed their feet and open the listener’s ears to their message.

Of battles and bittersweet discoveries

From the rear-view mirror, the weekend feels like it must have been one of those three-day operations, enhanced either by a holiday or a vacation day. But it was only Regular Size. Two different and dissimilar events in two different places conspire to leave the impression. Not to mention all the driving. But it was great driving—high quality, expensive driving on gas worth more than three bucks a gallon. How’s that for luxurious living?

I’d packed my Viking apparatus into Mrs. Hermanson the night before, and so was able to start south immediately after work. The road was Highway 169, a Minnesota favorite once you get past the congestion around Shakopee. 169 winds through a beautiful wooded valley in the St. Peter and Mankato areas It’s one of my favorite drives in the state. With Sissel on the stereo it doesn’t get much better (at least in my emotionally impoverished life). I was saddened, however, to see that one of my favorite Dairy Queens in the world, the one out in the country north of Mankato, has closed down after all these years. The last time I stopped they’d expanded their facility. Perhaps they overreached. A lesson to us all.

The road got narrower and less picturesque as Iowa approached, but I carried on. The people of the Bode (pronounced “Boad”), Iowa “Uff Da Days” festival put the cowardly Vikings (those who, like me, did not care to camp in tents) up in a motel in Humboldt, about twenty minutes away. I went there and slept well.

The day dawned gray, wet and stormy, but the forecast on the Weather Channel said it should clear, and it did that. The day went well, a welcome contrast to the heat and poor attendance in Decorah a week before. Bode is a very small town (about 350 residents), but we actually had more visitors to our encampment in one day there than we had in two days in Decorah.

We did four Live Steel Combat performances. I link to this page from a Viking discussion board where Eric posted some photos. I make the link, not because it’s terribly illuminating, but because I think I look fairly studly in the pictures, for an aging fat guy. I came home with a bruise on my left shoulder, and another on my ribcage. Also abrasions on both shins and the underside of my right forearm. I bear them proudly. They are wounds of honor. Eric is catching up to me, beating me more often than I beat him. He’s learning my tricks. However, I did fight Ragnar to a draw (we “killed” each other) once, so maybe I’m learning too.

It’s tough in small towns these days. They seem to be on the wrong side of history, and they know it. Economics and government subsidies favor big farms, so that instead of a hundred small farms, each feeding a family, you’ve got one big farm with a single family and a few employees, often transients. The towns have lost their economic base. Jonah Goldberg wrote about farm subsidies recently in National Review, and what he said was all true. But it doesn’t change the fact that a small, rural American town may have been the best environment for raising kids in the history of the world. And we’re losing it as we watch.

We tore down the camp Saturday evening, and after another pleasant motel night I set out for Belmond, Iowa and the Severson Family Reunion. I remembered that my church body has a congregation in Goldfield, Iowa, through which I passed, so I hunted it down and attended there. It’s a very small church at the best of times, and this was summer, so there were only about ten of us. The pastor is a Licensed Lay Pastor who drives up from Des Moines. Without the expense of a full-time minister, they manage to get by.

I enjoyed the service. It was neither emotional nor elegant, but it was familiar to me—more like the services I grew up with than what we have at the church I attend today. I don’t know how long it’s been since I heard a pastor give thanks for the crops. I felt I was among my own people (I know it’s wrong and evil for anyone with white skin to say that, but that was how I felt). And the sermon spoke to me.

Then on to Belmond. The reunion met in a nursing home’s dining room. Attendance was poor this year. People blamed gas prices. But the potluck was sumptuous. I met a distant relative (a lady of course) who was 91 years old. We can do better than that at the Walker reunions, but then we have higher attendance and a larger pool. I told them the story of my search for Cousin Trygve’s ancestor. I won a door prize (nearly everyone did). Everyone seemed pleased to meet me. They don’t get many people from my branch of the family at these do’s.

Then Bob, the organizer I met in Decorah, offered to take me to Kanawha, Iowa (the epicenter of Severson history in this country) to look for Trygve’s ancestor’s grave. I followed him the ten miles there, and out to the tree-bordered cemetery. It’s not a large cemetery, but I despaired of finding a single grave, without a map.

But Bob knew the place well. We started going around to places (mostly at the west end) where family was buried, on the theory that relatives tend to group together. He showed me various graves—one the son of the man I was looking for. I looked over and said, “There’s a stone that says Swelland.” (Swelland was my dad’s maternal grandmother’s married name, and she was a Severson). I went and looked at it and found a large family stone in a plot that otherwise contained only a single grave—that of Dad’s uncle Theodore, who died in a threshing engine explosion in 1918. The Swellands had a penchant for leaving underpopulated grave plots behind. They left one in my home town, Kenyon, Minnesota, too, with only my great-grandmother in it. My family took it over, and my grandparents and two aunts and an uncle are buried there. It belongs to me now, and I hope to lie there in time (but not too soon). Martha Severson Swelland’s been alone on her side of the stone a long time.

As I was photographing Theodore’s grave, Bob said, “Here’s the one you’re looking for.” I walked a few feet over to where he stood, and there was the gravestone Cousin Trygve wanted. I took several pictures for him.

I drove away triumphant.

Only afterward did I think that it might be sad for Trygve, in a way. He’d wanted to learn his ancestor’s story, but it may be he’d hoped to learn some good reason why the old man had cut off all communication with his unacknowledged offspring in Norway. If he’d died young and poor, for instance, that would be an excuse.

But he lived to be 90 and did all right for himself. One understands that after years of marriage it would be awkward to say to one’s wife, “Uh, there’s some unfinished business in Norway I need to take care of.” But for all that, the abandonment was a wrong act. This man was remembered as a Christian, a church sacristan, a man so kindly that his wife had to discipline the children. Yet at the back of his mind the old sin must have remained. Did he plan to “do something about it someday,” and did the right time just never come? Or did he try to bury the past? We can’t know, and mustn’t judge.

But it’s too bad.

15 minutes of fame for the wrong thing

I had an intriguing e-mail yesterday–the kind that appeals strongly to my essential exhibitionism.

It came from a well-known female reporter from a major newspaper (both of whose names are safe with me). She was responding to a comment I left on a Christian website, concerning my experience with a well-known online matchmaking service (whose identity I shall also clutch protectively to my chest). The matchmaker had declined to allow me to sign up. The reporter is doing a story on people whose experiences with online dating services have been less than optimal, and she thought my story might be helpful.

I think I disappointed her. I was willing (no, let’s be honest–eager) to be interviewed, but I had to admit that the service hadn’t done anything out of line in my case. They advertise proudly that they reject people who are bad marriage prospects, and it’s not hard to see that, by most objective standards, I’m one of that select group. She hasn’t responded to my response.

So there it is. I finally get an interview offer from a major newspaper, and it’s not about my books. It’s about my remarkable inadequacy as a potential date.

Fame is where you get it.

Or where you don’t.

(I’ll be gone till Monday. Playing Viking and going to a family reunion in Iowa. I’ll see you if I survive the rigors thereof.)