Back in the day when Cretin High School was it’s complete name, and it’s only students were teenage boys, and it was affordable to working class families, and the great majority of it’s teachers were Christian Brothers, the school had a program to help steer the students toward a good vocation in later life. This program was the bailiwick of a kindly, soft spoken, elderly Brother we fondly referred to as Brother Aptitude.

During your first three years of schooling, Brother Aptitude would periodically pop into your Home Room and give aptitude tests. During your last year, he would have three private sessions with you in which he would explain the results of the aptitude tests and combined with your academic achievements, would try to steer you towards a good vocation in life that would also interest you. I never got passed the first few minutes of the first session with Brother Aptitude.

I often thought that if I had completed the program, I wouldn’t have wandered from job to job until I finally found a good paying one I was suited for and interested me. Like the one that I worked at for 45 enjoyable years, some of them past the time I could have retired.

And why didn’t I complete this important program? Because I was a smart-alec who spoke before I thought!

For three years I had looked forward to my enlightening sessions with Brother Aptitude. I liked him and his tests. I liked his smile when we passed in the hall. I admired the old man. And finally when the day of the first private session came, I was so excited.

Brother Aptitude’s ‘office’ was in a far corner of the Principal’s outer office. Like all the desks of the Christian Brothers, his sat on an 8” riser with the front of the desk about 6” from the front of the platform. The building’s wall was the his back wall. His one side wall was the wall of the main office, with enough space between it and the platform to allow for entrance and exit. The front and 4th side were just bamboo screens. It wasn’t much of an office, but it did provide a small measure of privacy from the work that went on in the rest of the main office.

At the first of my sessions, Brother Aptitude met me at the outer office door and escorted me to his private domain. I sat in a chair on the floor in front of the platform and his desk, which was piled high with stacks of aptitude tests. He began by telling me what the tests showed what I was most interested in.

I placed highest in ‘literary appreciation’, which was no surprise. I always like to read books and write stories. Next he pointed out that I also placed high in ‘music appreciation’, which was also no surprise to me. It was the 50’s, the beginning of Rock & Roll. Not only did ;we teenagers have tour very own music, there was actually radio stations dedicated to play it. Elvis was King and the Top 40 our playlist.

Brother Aptitude made note of the fact, that I even though I liked music, I was not in the school band. I said that I was into sports. Plus, I had never learned to play a musical instrument.

He argued and told me that I shouldn’t be modest about not playing an instrument just because I might not play one as well as I would like. And he asked again what instrument did I play. This time he was much more forceful.

‘Well, Brother,’ I answered, with a smart-alec quip, ‘I do fool around with the phonograph.’

‘There now,’ he said, looking down at his notes on me, ‘I knew you played an instrument. Now if you are going to get anything out of…’Suddenly it dawned on him what I had actually said.

‘A phonograph!’ he shouted. For such a soft spoken old man, he sure could yell when he wanted to. ‘A phonograph!’ he shouted again.

He leapt to his feet and slammed his hands on the desk, trying to push his chair back at the same time. The slap was more of a push and the front legs of the desk fell off the platform which caused the stacks of papers to spill all over the floor, which caused more yelling from Brother Aptitude, which caused me to stand and jump backwards, which caused the screen behind me to fall over, which caused the side screen to follow suit, which caused the principal’s secretary typing away behind the big office counter to scream and jump up, which caused the principal to rush out of his office, and stand there, hands on hips, staring at the mess.

Poor old Brother Aptitude. His face was beet red. He wasn’t screaming anymore but he was stammering trying to explain his anger. The secretary brought him a glass of water, which caused him to cough and choke and spill on his robe as he tried to get it down.

I just stood there shivering, afraid that my action might trigger a heart attack or a nervous breakdown in the old man. I glanced sideways at the principal waiting for whatever he had in store for me. Corporal punishment and/ or tons of homework were a way of life in the school. Finally, the principal spoke in a calm, low voice. He told me I had better go back to my home room. Then he took Brother Aptitude’s arm and led him slowly into the Principal’s office.

Needless to say, my first session to help me find my vocation, ended. And needless to say, the other two sessions never happened. And needless to say, it took me years to find a vocation I was suited for. Three years of taking aptitude tests right down the drain. I never did receive any type of school punishment for my actions except whenever I happened to meet Brother Aptitude in the hall, he looked the other way. That hurt. I really liked the kindly old man and I never even got a chance to apologize to him.

It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, I must admit, that my smart-alec tongue got me in trouble. Sometimes you live and you still never learn.

Published – BB and Beyond  3/12/17

One of the readers wanted to know what occupation I worked at enjoyable for 45 years. Stage hand.  I figured it out that I had worked a mixture of thousands of happenings in those years, most of them in the field of arts and entertainment, although there were some that were in the fields of politics and athletics. In addition I worked on some movies that were filmed locally and did a bit of touring. While I would never say that everyone of those events were enjoyable, as a whole it was an occupation that I liked very much. And Brother Aptitude did steer me the right way when he said that my interests were in literary and musical appreciation.

There was one big downside, the long hours, the having to work weekends, robbed me of watching my  5 sons grow up. I was so fortunate to have a wife who raised them right, with so little help from me.

There was one big upside though, as soon as they reached the age of being able to work as stagehands, I got to work with them, teach them, learn from them, both as a father and a coworker. The 3 oldest paid their way through college as stagehands and have excellent professions. The 2 youngest stayed in the business, their specialty is high steel riggers..

In addition to working with my 5 sons, I also worked with a daughter-in-law, 4 nephews, and a young cousin. Like they say, nepotism is alright as long as you keep it in the family.   





The Old Hand of Oakdale:

It was our Freshman year in college and we had a semester break so Tom and Al and myself decided to get in my car and drive to Chicago to see the Blackhawks play. We stopped in Milwaukee first because there were two girls that Tom and Al had dated in high school attending Marquette University. We caught up with them and several of their classmates at the Student Union.

It was nice catching up and talking over old times with the two girls, as well as meeting their friends, but I had to excuse myself and go to the hotel. My football-knee was acting up after the long drive and I wanted to get back to the hotel and soak it in a tub of hot water.

When Tom and Al came in the room later they informed me the three of us were going to a movie that night. And Bubbles had claimed me as her date.

‘Whoa! Thanks but no thanks,’ I told them. ‘First, I don’t go on blind dates, especially with gals that have silly nicknames like Bubbles…’

‘She’s good looking,’ Al said, ‘And the girls say she is a lot of fun.’

‘I remember who she is. You can’t forget somebody called Bubbles, can you? But forget it. I see the Brubeck Trio are playing at a jazz club down by the lake. No way am I going to blow off chance to see them in person.’

Both Tom and Al argued, using every reason they could think of to make me change my mind. And the more they argued, the more stubborn I got.

Finally I just said, ‘Case closed! I am not going to a movie with a blind date especially one with a silly nickname! I’m going to see Brubeck.’

(A few years later, I broke those two rules and went out on a blind date with a girl nicknamed Georgie. In a couple months Georgie and I will be celebrating our 56th wedding anniversary.)

Driving to Chicago the next morning things was pretty quiet at first. Tom was dozing in the front seat and Al was laid across the back seat. Finally Al sat up and asked me how I enjoyed Brubeck. I told him it was great. Then I asked him about the movie.

‘We should have gone with you, a real tear jerker,’ Tom chimed in. ‘Two of the girls liked it.’

‘Bubbles sure wasn’t very bubbly,’ Al said. ‘I don’t think she’s every been stood up before.’

‘Hey!’ I argued, ‘I never asked her out to begin with, so how could I have stood her up?’

‘Yeah, you got a point’ Tom said. ‘We said you had another commitment that you couldn’t break. And, we sure never told her you didn’t go out with her because her friends called her Bubbles. Wouldn’t want her to think you’re a dink.’

Al leaned over the back seat. ‘Know why they call her Bubbles, dink? Oh, I mean Don.’

‘Bubbling personality?’

‘Well, not last night,’ Al said, and he slapped me on the shoulder. ‘You blew it, man! They call her Bubbles because she’s Lawrence Welk’s daughter.’ He laughed and started singing, ‘Roll out the barrel, and we’ll have a barrel of fun.’

Tom joined in and pretty soon all three of us were singing The Beer Barrel Polka, followed by In Heaven There Is No Beer.’

Published Bulletin Board – 2/22/17


Stay tuned. The next post will be AH TWO. It will be about the time I worked Bubble’s father and the man who married her.



Back in The Day



The Old Hand  writes (having changed the names in this story, to protect both the innocent and the guilty) :

“Miss Fisk had a small 3.2 bar just outside the town limits — clean, quiet, befitting the gray-haired, innocent looking old lady. She lived in the far end of the building: a small kitchen/office, and her bedroom.

“She treated the barroom itself as her living room. Wipe your feet on the mat before entering. A small oak bar, 10 stools, three booths, and six tables. There was the front door, and a door leading to her living quarters, and a door with a restroom sign above it.

“But once you went through that door with the restroom sign, you were outside in the parking lot and about a hundred feet from a gray, wooden, two-holed outhouse. There weren’t too many bars left that didn’t have inside facilities, but Miss Fisk did not like the idea of cleaning an inside restroom.

“Her clientele was carefully picked. She allowed no rowdies, no drunks, no one she suspected of spending money on liquor when his family was going hungry, no unescorted females; there was no swearing, no Bible thumping, and no children. And once she banned you, you were banned for life.

“Since there was never many customers in her place, you had to wonder how she made ends meet — but she had her ways. For instance, there were the poker games, big stakes, that started every Saturday afternoon. The house took a draw out of each pot. And when the chaff got separated from the wheat, this sweet old lady sat in and showed the boys how to play poker.

“Then there was the Minnesota liquor law. Only liquor stores could sell whiskey by the bottle, and liquor stores closed at 8 p.m. six nights and never opened on Sunday. That left a lot of hours for thirsty people who wanted to buy more whiskey.

“Now, a 3.2 bar couldn’t sell even a glass of strong beer, let alone a shot of whiskey, and heaven forbid a bottle of whiskey — but Miss Fisk saw a need and filled it. She pushed more illegally sold bottles out the back door during the off-hours than the Judge’s liquor store in town ever hoped to sell legally. And for a bigger profit, tax-free.

Gros Jean, the township marshal, knew of all this, but he would never do anything about her sidelines, because he figured, like everyone, that she was filling some valuable needs for the community. Plus, he had been unopposed in his running for office for almost two decades, and he liked his job. It supplied him with a good living and a new car every few years.

“It was the last new car that got Bantam Denis the idea that maybe there was more to the job than just the salary, so Banty decided to run against Gros Jean. A week or so before the election, he stopped into Miss Fisk’s bar, and even though he had been banned several years before, he ordered a beer. He was refused. So he went and dumped everybody’s glass of beer on the floor as he ranted as to how, when he was elected, he would stop the Saturday poker games and stop her back-door peddling of whiskey, maybe even take away her 3.2 license. Unless! He went and whispered something in her ear.

“In spite of the fact that the kickback he wanted from her was less than what she was paying Gros Jean, she held the door open while several customers threw Banty out.

“Banty held off a few nights before getting his revenge. He waited in the dark until Miss Fisk and Jen, girlfriend of Earl the bartender, went to the outhouse. Once they were inside, he took the board into which he had started four nails, and, placing it crosswise, he hammered it to the door frame, making it impossible to push the door open.

“The two women screamed and tried to get out. He jumped into his pickup and started bumping the outhouse — not enough to tip it over, just enough to scare the . . . etc. Then he drove out quickly. Nobody inside the bar heard the commotion, and it wasn’t until almost a hour later, when someone walked out to use the outhouse, that their predicament was discovered.

“Naturally, everyone knew who had pulled the trick — but as Gros Jean pointed out, there was no evidence . . . and maybe not even a law against nailing an outhouse door closed.

“But come the election results, Miss Fisk had her faith in mankind restored. Twice the usual number of people had voted, and Banty ended up with just two votes. No, it wasn’t his mother who cast the other vote for him. She had made it clear before the election that she wouldn’t vote for her son even if he were the only one running. The second vote was cast by an angry wife of one of the habitual losers in the Saturday poker games.

“And the very next day after getting locked in the outhouse, Miss Fisk used some of her ill-gotten gains to have an addition built on her building: a unisex restroom with all the modern conveniences. Of course, though, the old gray outhouse out back was left standing, because there were some habits her regular customers just couldn’t break.

“The only change in the outhouse was that somebody had found the board Banty had used and painted the words ‘BANTY’S JAILHOUSE’ on it and nailed it over the door.

“The bar and outhouse stood for several more years, until the Highway Department bought it for a highway expansion and knocked it down.

“Miss Fisk started another bar high on a hill which overlooked where the old bar had been, but it just wasn’t the same. For one thing, the building code decreed it had to have both a Men’s Room and a Ladies’ Room inside the building, requiring a lot of cleaning never needed when all she had was the old outhouse.

Published Bulletin Board & Onward       1/14/17


evil monkey



The Old Hand :

George, a neighbor down the road, had himself a monkey. Or maybe it was the other way around. This monkey was just too mean and ornery to ever be called a pet. It tolerated George. It disliked all other creatures that walked on two legs. And it positively hated all four legged animals, especially dogs.

In nice weather, George would stake the monkey outside on a twenty foot chain. It wore out the grass in a circle around the stake; except not a twenty foot radius, only fifteen feet. That extra five feet of chain was the monkey’s gotcha for dogs.

A unsuspecting dog would come to just outside the worn grass and bark and  tease the monkey, thinking it was safe, not realizing the chain was five feet longer than the monkey’s circle. The monkey would run at the dog, and much to the dog’s surprise, would not stop at the edge of the grass. Instead it used up the extra chain to leap on the dog’s back, bite, scratch, draw blood, until the poor dog could manage to escape the foul-smelling demon.

One Easter Sunday, George returned from Mass to the sight of the fire department wetting down the ashes of his trailer home and the monkey. He stood by his truck and lit a cigarette with a match. He had misplaced his Zippo lighter earlier in the day. One of the firemen said a Zippo was found by the monkey’s open-doored cage.

George bought himself a replacement Zippo, but never bothered to buy himself a replacement monkey.

Published St. Paul Pioneer Press, Bulletin Board       3/20/15






Confessional cartoon   Recently the St. Paul paper’s Bulletin Board has had quite a few humorous memories of people going to confession in their youth. I sent in a few of mine. If you grew up Catholic, they might trigger some funny memories of your own. If you are not Catholic, they will give you a peek into that mysterious booth in Catholic churches – the CONFESSIONAL.


The Old Hand : “At St. Francis on the first Thursday of the month, the nuns marched the kids to Confession in the church. There were two permanent confessionals, one on either side of the church. But on this special day, there was a third confessional — a portable one that sat down the center aisle, right by the altar rail. The two young priests manned the permanent confessionals, but the third was the Monsignor’s domain, and the nuns picked out the ‘special projects’ to go to the Monsignor for Confession.

“Those unfortunates sat single-file in pews along the center aisle. Sat there sweating, awaiting their fate. They sat far enough back so they couldn’t hear the kid in the box talking, but they could be in the back rows and still hear the Monsignor as he roared at the penitent. And when he finally got rid of the kid, he would step out and look at the row of those waiting. He wanted to see who would be next.

“The minute he went back inside the confessional, the kids in his center row jumped up and there was a massive switching of seats.

“St. Francis was not my parish; I just went to school there. When I went to Confession in my own parish, I had problems — mainly because the priest never used the impersonal ‘my son.’ He always called me by my first name, and would talk to me after the Absolution. He would ask me things like if my grandmother was feeling any better, or remind me that I had to serve the funeral Mass on Monday. And his penances always ran to saying three decades of the Rosary. I often wondered: If I got that kind of penance, what kind would he give to those only-Easter-and-Christmas churchgoers?

“When I got my own car, I, and many of the teenagers in the city, went to confession at the Little Flower. You might have to stand in a long line, but once inside the box, it was bing-bang. No preaching. Always the same penance: three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys.

“I know for a fact that the Father never bothered to listen to what you had to say. I bet you could have told him you committed suicide twice, or told him he’d better get outside because the church was on fire, and still you would get the same reply: ‘Three Our Fathers and three Hail Marys. Now say an Act of Contrition.’ And before you finished the Act of Contrition, he had you absolved, the black talking panel was closed, and he was listening to the person on the other side of the confessional.”

Published: St. Paul Pioneer Press Bulletin Board          3/4/15





SergeantSergeant was my first horse. He was three when I bought him from my mother’s cousin, Ector. It was the summer between the sixth and seventh grade. I paid $110 for him. Gave Ector $18.20 down. Got my horse. Worked off the rest during the next two summers, 35 cents an hour, weeding, hoeing, selling vegetables at a roadside stand.

Sarg lived way past the expected age of horses. Over the years scores of children, including my five sons, got their very first horseback ride sitting on his back. He was gentle. He loved people. But I was the only one he would kiss on the cheek.

He was always well behaved. Except for one time. And that wasn’t his fault.

The Old Hand of Oakdale:

My grandfather had a hobby that a lot of people today have. He brewed beer, and he made wine.

He made a dandelion wine that would take your breath away. One sniff of its bouquet would clear up your sinus congestion. It was definitely a sipping wine. Too big a swallow would be akin to taking a gulp of Tabasco sauce. He also made a more refined rhubarb wine.

I came home from school one day and noticed that my horse, Sergeant, was not in the pasture. I found him in his stall, and he was acting strangely. When I unsnapped the rope from his halter, he backed out of the stall and ran out the barn door. As soon as he was outside, he began to rear up, buck, jackknife — things I had never seen him do except in the early spring. He ran around and around. Finally he stopped on the high hill in the summer pasture. And just stood there. And I could tell he was on shaky legs. I whistled, but he wasn’t coming.

I went back in the barn and could smell a strange tart odor coming from the oats box in the stall. Grandpa walked in, and I found out what the problem was. He had made some wheat wine, and, being one who never wasted anything, had fed the fermented wheat mash to Sarg. My poor horse was drunk.

I didn’t know how to cure a horse of a hangover or a headache. I just left Sarg standing on that hill and let nature take its course. I did make sure that there was plenty of water in the trough, because I knew the horse would be thirsty when he decided to come back to the barnyard.

Actually, the word was that the wheat wine wasn’t too bad. But Grandpa never bothered to make wheat wine again.

Published SPPP Bulletin Board – Pub 6/4/13

Having a horse of one’s own is a dream many kids have. I was fortunate. I had Sergeant. But he was more than just a horse. He was a friend. A confidant. And many times, a baby sitter. We explored the woods and fields. Hot summer days we went into the lake and he was my diving board. Cold winter days, he gave me warmth because I always rode bareback.  We grew up together. A boy and his horse.