Today is my birthday.  I had titled this blog “81” and the contents were exactly as they appear at and below the photo of the Dandelions, taken yesterday.  It is spring in the north country.

My topic shifted overnight, to “School”.  Before I went to bed, an e-mail about a teacher I first met 56 years ago when we were among those who opened a new junior high school:

“Bruce is home in hospice after a traumatic event.  He is unable to move and sleeps most the time.  He wasn’t expected to make it through the night last Wednesday in the hospital, but then rallied.  We brought him home to hospice care on Friday and his vitals have remained strong.  He can’t communicate, but does respond when someone talks to him.”
The e-mail was from a week ago, in an account I no longer use, but you can imagine the impact.  We were in our 20s then.  Bruce was a math teacher, I was social studies, so we were in different wings, and no particular associations otherwise.  I don’t know what the “traumatic event” was, but we were part of that school family, and you know how families are, and crises….
Then overnight another piece of news from a place I’d never heard of, Southlake.  I’m going to ask you to read this column and think about how it relates to you, personally, wherever you happen to live.  It caused me to think back to a previous “culture war” swirling around about 30 years ago when I was a teacher union rep in a suburb not far from here.  I’ll say nothing more now, but in a few days look back at this spot and I’ll tell the rest of the story as I remember it from back then.

The Dandelion, my dad’s favorite flower, as presented in its latest edition, May 3, 2021, Grey Cloud Island MN.

Today, I’m 81. There are no bells and whistles  expected or planned.  80, last year, came right in the difficult early days of the pandemic, so there were no bells and whistles then, either.  Fine by me.  Our friends, the Longs, had their daughters 20th birthday in the parking lot of their business last year.  They invited a few friends, we were all masked and social distanced.  That is how it was.  Let’s hope for good days to come, though the people of India are reeling now, and this isn’t at all over.  Be wary and aware.


I had a couple of thoughts for this days post, but as the song goes “life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans”.

Today my younger brother is having brain surgery in his home city.  He wasn’t expecting this destination, and  none of us were aware until the phone call on Thursday night – an MRI led to immediate hospitalization, and surgery which began on Monday.  Of course, none of us know if the news will be good or not: “life is what happens….”  So, the top of my ‘to do’ list today, didn’t exist four days ago.  It is how life is.  POSTNOTE May 5: Surgery went well – no apparent adverse after effects.  Good news so far.

I did, and still do, have three musings I want to share this day, as they were listed on my sheet of paper….

  1. CLEM GRONFORS: Tuesday, May 4, 1999, was National Teacher Day, and I recall being invited to speak at a gathering of teachers and administrators in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, where I had been a teacher and then teacher’s union representative for about 17 years.  My gig is not public speaking, but I had a couple of things on my mind that day.  First, the previous weekend, I had been with my son and family, at Cross Hill above Columbine High School in Littleton CO.  The carnage had just happened there little over a week earlier, and we went up the mound of dirt which had been dubbed Cross Hill, in memory of those killed.  (Enter Cross Hill Columbine in your search engine and you’ll find lots of references.). I talked about what I felt there.  Then I related a comment from my daughter, Joni, when I had asked her if she had any school memories to share.  She was a teacher, and is now a Principal, and her answer was quick in coming.  She remembered her fourth grade teacher Mr. Gronfors who had a special impact on her life in an important time.  I was telling the story and heard a loud sobbing sound in the room.  It was Susan, who I think was still a high school teacher.  My story resonated with her since part of her service duties was to take “meals on wheels” to Mr. Gronfors, then retired and shut in. It was a powerful moment, at a powerful time.  Mr. Gronfors passed away in 2008.  I noted that the closest Clem got to a flowery obit was a column I wrote which told this same story May 10, 2018.  I’d forgotten about that.  Clem had made an impression, for sure.
  2. A LAST CLASS: I’ve been thinking this year about my last day in my undergraduate college days, which was Monday, December 4, 1961 – 60 years ago.  I was ready to “commence” and I wrote the date on a slip of paper which I kept for many years.  No offense to the professor or the class.  I was ready to go!  A month later I was heading into the Army, and beyond that life with all of its twists and turns.  We all go through this.  We all have our stories.  (I dug out my college transcript last night – I got a “C” in the course…it wasn’t a favorite.  It wasn’t the professors fault.  You know the drill.)
  3. THE LIST:  Last week I was going through old newsletters of an organization I’ve been part of for many years.  The May 2003 issue caught my attention.  It was the issue immediately before I became a member.  There was a request for $5 donations for a fund which had been sent to 425 people, of whom 132 responded, donating $740 for the identified cause.  The names of the donors were all listed, so I decided to look through the list, to see who I knew, personal role models for me.  There were 38, 17 of whom were deceased.  We come, and we go.

Common advice to people trying to make their point is to “tell the audience what you’re going to say, say it, then tell them what you said”.

We all have a finite life.  Live it, and strive to leave a positive contribution of some sort along the way.  Live each day as if it were your last.

At the Mississippi River near home May 3, 2021

POSTNOTE noon May 4: I’m aware that this has become an old man’s blog this day.  That’s okay.  I’m one.  I have lots of company.

Some weeks ago I was thinking about this topic because of three happenings to three friends of mine which happened quite close together, albeit on our street, in Wisconsin and in Colorado.  All would qualify as elders.  I give them assumed names.

Jim across the street was first: he’s 91, and one night called and wanted us to come over.  I walked over, and he was in such obvious bad shape that I called 9-11.  It ended up with an ambulance ride to the hospital in St. Paul, and a stay overnight.  He was terrified, and had to be carried out of the house on a stretcher.  I was glad I called 9-11.

Sometime later, the bill came for the ambulance ride, and Jim had no memory whatever of either the ride or the time in the hospital.  He does have memory issues.  The incident was worse than normal.

Then, Don in Colorado: he and his wife finally were convinced to divest of their home and move to be closer to their kids.  For Don, the issue was not memory.  But he was having trouble qualifying for a drivers license because of neck problems – he couldn’t turn his neck far enough sideways to see traffic coming beside him. He was stubborn, but it was easier to understand why folks like those who license drivers pay more attention to the physical and cognitive state of their older clients. It is extremely hard to convince we older people to use common sense and quit driving.

Finally, Phil in Wisconsin:  I hadn’t heard from him in awhile, and then came an e-mail, in relevant part as follows (reprinted with his permission):

“Two weeks ago today [written April 4] I was hurt in an accident.  Since then I’ve been unable to type for any length of time….  

As for the accident, here is what happened

Two weeks ago two friends and I were cutting down some trees and some very large branches off of some other trees on Sunday morning.  After lunch, [two of us] decided to cut a very large branch facing the lake of on the east side of one of the elm trees in the front yard while [the other] was cleaning up some of the wood in the back yard.  [We] used a 20-foot aluminum and placed it on the S. E. corner of the tree to climb about 20 feet or so into a large crutch of the tree.  [My friend] was placing himself into a position where he could cut a very large branch located directly on the east side of the tree.   I was standing fifty feet away by the garage when [he] asked me to move a picnic table near the tree so the tree branch wouldn’t hit it.  So I moved the table sitting on the patio from the north side of the tree to the west side of the tree.  So the table and I were on the west side of the tree when this very large branch was cut and came down.  The last thing I remember was leaning over the picnic table.

 The next thing I remember was lying under the deck with only my feet sticking out.    I was unconscious for about 10-12 minutes until the ambulance arrived from [town which is] four miles west from … where I live.

Apparently, this very large branch hit the aluminum ladder causing it to fly back west past the tree and struck me in the middle of my head and then deflected and hit the top of my left shoulder.   This caused a very large cut on the top of my shoulder and the top of my head causing me to bleed profusely.  Because of the force of the ladder, my body flew about 10 feet over the patio and I hit the back of my head and the back of both shoulders against the supporting board of the deck and I fell onto the ground, back, and under the deck.  This caused bad bruises on the back of my head and on both shoulders.  The top of my head and the top of my left shoulder were so badly bruised, it broke the skin and both bled profusely. 

When the ambulance arrived and I became conscience, they pulled me out from under the deck.  [My friends] lifted me off the ground and help me walk from the front of the house through the garage to the back of the garage and placed me on a stretcher.   While in the ambulance, the attendant (a young farmer from the area) wrapped by head and shoulder to stop the bleeding.   The ambulance took me to the emergency room [at the hospital] arriving there at around 2:00 P.M. 

As a result of the accident, I have a concussion and a C-2 vertebra fracture.  I now have a brace around my neck, possibly for 6 weeks or more, depending on how the fracture heals.  I have two open wounds, one of the top of my head that required 22 staples that were just removed this past week, and a wound on my right shoulder that is also healing.   

I’m feeling well, but still have a difficult time typing for a period of time.”

I sent Phil a little advice:  “Ladders, trees and elderly aren’t usually a good mix.  Don’t rush recovery, and relax  .”

Yesterday I got a note from Phil: Now, six weeks out from the accident, he’s pretty much back from the dead, so to speak. Regardless of the age of the reader, his story is good advice to us all.  The trick is to follow that advice!  And I’m no more perfect than anyone else.

POSTNOTE 9 p.m. May 4:  Today went about perfectly, not the least of which was the apparent successful surgery for my brother.  All seems to have gone well.

On the home front, it was a good day too: the usual activities, but with add-ons of a small party of about ten of us at Third Act in Woodbury, phone call with my son in Colorado, and tomorrow lunch with daughter Lauri and two kids.  Then all these notes (below).  All low key, which is what I liked.  Thank you all.

COMMENTS (more at end of post)

from Larry: Happy Birthday, Blogday, and World Betterment Day,

from Doug: Mr. Bernard. Happy birthday.  My birthday is next week on the 13th. I will be 91. Hard for me to believe that number. 

I am married to the former Bernadette Berning and live in Dubuque, Iowa. 
Hope you have a pleasant birthday Dick.
I do enjoy all your Emails. Thanks.

from Melanie: Happy Birthday Dick!!! I am visualizing your brother recovering and doing well.

Big huge hugs,
from Georgine: Happy birthday Dick.  Have a wonderful day!  Cannot believe you are 81!
from JaL: Happy Birthday, Dick.  Hope you are having a wonderful day.  Stay safe, keep well.
from Jerry: Happy birthday, Dick.  It so I are to dream the fund will keep growing.  .It was good to see you at Yesterday’s short Zoom meeting.  Our dream from the start of 100 Associates to reach $25,000 happened fairly effortlessly..  You played the major role in our good start.
from Kathy: Oh Happy Birthday Friend Dick Bernard!  Continued blessings to you all ways/always!
from Judy: Happy 80th Birthday! Now you and Doug (my guy) are both Geezers!
from Brad: “We’re on on the path we preciously need to be.”  Happy 81st Birthday, and the best to you on this year’s path!
from Kevin: Happy birthday Dick.  Stay well and keep active!  Cheers

About 5 p.m.May 4, 2021. Would I trust this character if I saw him on the street? My daughter did the best she could with the subject she had. I was squinting into a bright sun.

from Len:  I want to extend a “Happy Birthday” to you. May the day and this year be filled with happiness and joy.  I am reminded of a line from one of my favorite James Taylor songs in his album “Passages of Time: “The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time…any fool can do it …there ain’t nothin to it…no one knows how we got to the top of the hill  ..but since we are on our way down …we might as well enjoy the ride…Much to ponder in this verse and the following verses and the melody also is soothing. Best to you.




11 replies
  1. Beth Didier
    Beth Didier says:

    I cannot agree that today’s was an old man’s blog. But, if you must, call it so. It was uncharacteristic, for sure. That said, it really resonated with emotion and wisdom, two things which oftentimes don’t end up together these days. Thank you for sharing, as always. And happy birthday, dear man.

  2. MK Larson
    MK Larson says:

    Happy Birthday!!
    I enjoyed the real life stories of aging!
    I am nearing 70 –
    And celebrating our 10 yr old grand daughter’s birthday.

  3. Molly Redmond
    Molly Redmond says:

    Happy Birthday, Dick! And may the year ahead be a good one for you and your family
    …and, of course. for our rather battered country.

    Your stories & observations are much appreciated–especially so in the past tough year–and always provide a different & welcome slant.

    Peace, Love, Hugs,

  4. Beth Brownfield
    Beth Brownfield says:

    What a story teller! Happy Birthday. You have me beat by a year. Had my 3rd chemo immunotherapy today, tomorrow complete this months sessions, 3 more to go. Have had no challenging side effects to these. Cancer is not life threatening but it has one thinking about mortality and what’s to be done between now and then!

  5. Greg Halbert
    Greg Halbert says:

    A belated Happy Birthday wish, Dick. I didn’t get to reading my email until this afternoon, Cinco De Mayo. Hope spelling is correct. I tensed up as I began to read the ladder story, with a fateful premonition as to how it would end. Glad you are still able to tell your wonderful stories! Be well, my friend.

  6. Melvin Giles
    Melvin Giles says:

    Hi Dick,

    You are the best and an insightful and wise sage! Enjoy your Born Day month & year!!!!!! Be well, Mr. Bernard!!!! Peace
    May Prevail On Earth (MPPOE)!!
    Peaceful Thoughts,


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