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Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie”





MAY 2, 2018


As our series gets older, more and more often, before a new book selection is chosen, I look around and ask myself, Which of the great family classics have we continued to bypass? This month’s selection had been snubbed so many times that I felt its time had finally come.

If ever books were made for television, it would be Wilder’s. Her sentences are short and the words are simple ones, thus even third-graders ought to be very comfortable reading them out loud. And much of it is dialogue. The pace is fast and suspense is interwoven throughout the plot.

Though the books themselves were popular with the young, it was the television series starring Melissa Gilbert as Laura, and Michael Landon as the father that made the series iconic around the world. The series ran from the 1970s into the 1980s.

I must confess I’d never read the book before, so I wasn’t at all sure it would keep my interest. Not to worry: it certainly does! I can see another reason why the book ought to be in every home library: what a book for a parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt to read out loud when children are present.

Laura Ingalls Wilder (1869-1959) was born in the Big Woods country of Wisconsin. She came from illustrious lineage: the Delanos; after all FDR was a Delano. Laura was only two when the family moved west in a covered wagon, west into the Great Plains, initially settling in Indian Country in Kansas; then it was on to DeSmet, South Dakota.

Since she grew up on the sparsely settled Great Plains, in the midst of Indian unrest and the mass slaughter of the buffalo, her autobiographical books ring true historically. However, the television plots, being fictional, only loosely mirror her actual life.

In this book, the reader will be deeply immersed in the lives of those who grow up in the Great Plains. In later years, such individuals feel boxed in by mountains—only on the Plains do they really feel at home.

Here are the books you ought to round up:


  • Little House in the Big Woods (1932)
  • Farmer Boy (1933). About Almanzo Wilder growing up in New York.
  • Little House on the Prairie (1935)
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937)
  • By the Shores of Silver Lake (1939)
  • The Long Winter (1940)
  • Little Town on the Prairie (1941)
  • Those Happy Golden Years (1943)
  • The First Four Years (1971). Posthumous. Chronicles the early days of the Wilder marriage.

There were other works not part of this series.

Welcome to Wilder’s world!


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APRIL 25, 2018

Scott Olson, Getty Images file

What a celebration of a life! Barbara Pierce Bush, the wife of George Herbert Walker Bush, 41st President of the United States, was laid to rest on Saturday, April 22, 2018.

Thanks to the miracle of television, my wife and I had ring-side seats for the celebration of a remarkable life. But even before her passing, the incredible outpouring of love and appreciation had already begun. It is still ongoing. But the high-point had to be that funeral service in Houston’s magnificent St. Martin’s Episcopal Church. Presidents have died with much less fanfare and outpourings of love and respect than we have been experiencing.

When Connie and I were discussing the week’s events and all this attention given a non-elected public figure, we could come up with only one reason: All of us, through her, are mourning what we have lost: a caring, kind, decent, loving, faithful, courteous, empathetic, civil, spiritual, ethical, humble, principled, self-sacrificing, patriotic, altruistic, conciliatory, family-centered, and hard-working world that spawned what we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.”

A world where marriage was not a mere tack-on after years of living together, but a sacred and longed-for high-point after a magical period called “courtship”—a far cry from today’s hook-up throw-away relationships. How well I remember my father’s life-long courtship of my mother. When he passed, as we sifted through their memory boxes, the love-letters he wrote in her annual Valentine’s Day cards down through the years were so intense we felt we had no business intruding into such a holy place. That’s why I related so strongly to a brief but poignant side-bar carried by newspapers across the nation this week: a young man is about to be sent into war, with no guarantee he’ll ever see his lovely fiancee again. And he writes these words to her, on December 12, 1943:

As the days go by the time of our departure grows nearer. For a long time I had anxiously looked forward to the day when we would go aboard and set to sea. It seemed that obtaining that goal would be all I could desire for some time, but, Bar, you have changed all that. . . . Even now, with a good while between us and the sea, I am thinking of getting back. This may sound melodramatic, but if it does it is only my inadequacy to say what I mean. But, you have made my life full of everything I could ever dream of—my complete happiness would be a token of my love for you…. Goodnite, my beautiful. Everytime I say beautiful you about kill me but you’ll have to accept it—All of us realize full-well that for two people to stay together for a lifetime, the odds against it are staggering, especially given our longevity today, and the many others we care for deeply, cherish, and love who come into our lives. But my parents’ generation tried their best to make it work, just as George and Barbara Bush did. Today, the media mocks and devalues marriage—if anything, they celebrate out of wedlock sexual relationships more than they do marital ones.

A couple of years ago, on a cruise ship, several of us were celebrating a Golden Wedding Anniversary of one of the couples. After we’d sung “Happy Anniversary” to them, our maitre d’ came over and asked how many years they’d been married. When told that we were celebrating their4 50th wedding anniversary, the look on his face was priceless. It was as though we’d told him they’d just returned from the moon.! After a long sigh, he said, ‘Oh my! Such a thing will never happen to me. . . or any of my crowd.” And George and Barbara Bush had been married 73 years!

All of us have been mourning the loss of such a role model, because we don’t produce many like her any more. Let’s listen in to Carl Rove. In his April 19 Wall Street Journal tribute, “Heaven, Get Ready for Barbara Bush.” Here are some of the things he said:

The sad news came Tuesday while I was on my way to dinner with a friend. A noble life of purpose had ended. Barbara Bush had passed at age 92.Naturally, the table conversation revolved around this remarkable woman. As the evening wound down, an email arrived, an invitation to the Service of Celebration and Thanksgiving Saturday at 11. Will you be coming? The missive reflected Mrs. Bush’s personality: prepared, prompt, direct and thoughtful.

The email also had a picture of Mrs. Bush: grey hair, eyes crinkly and welcoming, the soft smile that bespoke kindness and great joy—and pearls, three strands of them, elegant but understated. You could almost hear her explaining the rapid notice: Well, of course. People are busy and we want our friends to know so they can come if they can. It’s the right thing to do.

When we think of the Greatest Generation, martial virtues often spring to mind—young men in an unimaginably violent struggle, saving the civilized world. Men like George H.W. Bush, who joined the Navy on his 18th birthday to serve as a torpedo bomber pilot and was later shot down over the Pacific.

But there was another, no less admirable part of that generation, epitomized by Mrs. Bush. The two met at a Christmas party, she 16 in a green and red holiday dress and he a year older. Because he couldn’t waltz, they sat and talked and fell in love.

Strong, smart and outspoken, Mrs. Bush was her husband’s indispensable partner when the war ended and it was time for life to begin anew. All that he achieved in their extraordinary life together was possible only because of her wisdom, unceasing love, bracing candor and sturdy values.

Her loyalty brought out the best in everyone around them. I first met Mrs. Bush when I was 22 and working for her husband, then Republican National Committee chairman. Decades later, toiling for her son at the White House, I was still nervous whether she felt I was giving it my best.

Long before she said as first lady, “What happens in your house is more important than what happens in the White House,” Mrs. Bush focused on what was happening in her house. The children she raised are testimony to a mother who taught respect, integrity, hard work, and faith and gave unconditional love.

For Mrs. Bush, the right thing always involved service to others. Her most visible cause was literacy. She inspired millions to provide a window to a larger world of imagination, knowledge and beauty by helping someone learn to read.

There was another cause, more private at first because it was deeply personal. After losing their first daughter, Robin, to leukemia at age 3—a wound handled with grace but never fully recovered from—the Bushes made defeating cancer a central focus of their lives.

One memory: As first lady in 1989, she visited a hospital and cradled an AIDS baby in her arms. That may not seem like much now, but at the time, some people mistakenly thought the deadly disease was transmitted by contact. No matter; she saw a child of God in need of being held and comforted.

In her passing, no person has suffered a greater loss than her husband. Bush men have a way of marrying formidable women. That was the case with President Bush 41’s father, Sen. Prescott Bush. When his wife and 41’s mother, Dorothy Walker Bush, died in 1992, the then-president wrote his brother Jonathan to thank him for a tribute he’d made at the funeral, saying, “Our compass is spinning a little.”

Today in Houston, George H. W. Bush’s compass is spinning a lot. He has lost the love of his life and his wife of 73 years. May the God of tender mercies bless and comfort him, the remarkable children he and his wife brought into this world, and the many grandchildren whom they loved and enjoyed so deeply.

I shall continue discussing Bushes and the Greatest Generation on May 9.

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APRIL 18, 2018

Tis all too true! When we first moved back to Colorado back in 1996, there were two fully-staffed and highly-respected newspapers serving Denver: The Denver Post (leaning Democrat) and Rocky Mountain News (leaning Republican). During those brief 22 years, the grand old Rocky Mountain News was forced to close its doors. Just a week ago, the already greatly reduced Denver Post, let yet another batch of its most valuable and badly-needed employees go—and furthermore notified subscribers that it would soon close its doors completely! Unless someone would be willing to step in and purchase it, the Centennial State would be left without a major newspaper for the first time in its history.

“No newspaper? Who cares?” So say today’s non-reading public. “We can get all the news we want electronically.” Maybe so, but an informed electorate—so crucial to a democracy—cannot continue to exist with only 15-30 second political attack ads as a basis for choosing the best qualified candidates for public office. A stable voting electorate presupposes a base of literate adults (surrounded by newspapers of stature, magazines, and books).

All of which are today at risk.

The prevailing attitude of Americans up until recent years has been: Of course America is a democracy, and is certain to remain so! In recent years, the sky has darkened, and fears of a looming dictatorship taking control of “the Land of the Free” is voiced more and more often, as public rhetoric is being characterized by vulgarities, obscenities, and loss of civility.

Considering all this, The Denver Post, flawed and reduced though it be, is a must-save! Without such a flagship, Colorado is reduced to red-neck, non-reading, non-thinking stature. Talk about red-lines! Is this a red-line we can afford to not take a decisive, principled stand on?


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Why So Many U.S. Men Die at Age 62




APRIL 11, 2018

That is the title of a landmark study of aging conducted by Maria D. Fitzpatrick of Cornell University and Timothy J. Moore of the University of Melbourne. The information came from the National Center for Health Statistics (years studied: 1979-2012).

They discovered that the increase of the probability of death for men who retire at 62 could be as high as 20%!

How strange! The lifeline we call Social Security” may be resulting in earlier death rather than extending it!

This dovetails with other studies I’ve come across during the last 25-30 years. According to virtually all of these studies, there is one constant: the average American (especially the average male) tends to die within seven years of retirement. Apparently, the very worst thing that can happen to a male retiree is for him to breathe a great sigh of relief and say, “Finally! No more committees, no more deadlines, no more projects—starting today I can just veg, and enjoy life!” When that happens, in his brain’s control tower, the commander in chief of his white armies sends out a final command: “Demobilize! You aren’t needed any more!” And you die. Clearly, often quickly—even at 62! Thus, every retiree (at any age) ought to be aware of his/her options: unless you immediately establish new priorities, develop new passions, set new goals, get involved in new hobbies, find new ways to serve and make a difference, read books widely, travel in order to learn—, yes, failure to do this is a death sentence.

All around us are men and women who refuse to let go, refuse to terminate growth (at any age!)—and they tend to remain vibrant, relative, energetic, and interesting to be around. On the other hand, those who piddle out their days with mindless TV, lackadaisical physical activity, etc—nobody wants to be around them. Because they get dumber and more uninteresting by the day.

The writers in the Good Book concur: Nowhere in the pages of Holy Writ is there any indication that God expects us to cease growing at any age. Instead, Christ’s parables are full of stories that teach us that, of no talent God has entrusted to us, will He require a stricter accounting on Judgment Day than of the Talent of Time. Nowhere in Scripture do we find a divine injunction that says, “When you get old, you’re home free: you no longer have to grow, learn, make a difference.”

Who knew that early retirement would amount to a death sentence?

Permit me to conclude with one of the greatest poems (and plays) on aging ever written:


Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,

Because their words had forked no lightning they

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright

Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the night.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,

And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight

Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,

Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.

Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas (1914-1952)

Copyright ©1945: New Directions Publishing Corporation

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Jakob and Wilhelm’s “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”





APRIL 4, 2018

We have reached the point where, each month, I search for authors and titles that the world considers to be so great that it would be a travesty to leave them out of our series. For some time now, Jacob and Wilhelm have steadily and ever louder, been knocking at my door demanding admission.

McLoughlin Brothers, n.d.

Jakob Ludwig Karl Grimm was born in Hanau in Hesse-Cassel in 1785, Wilhelm Karl Grimm a year later. After their father died, the widow, with six children, moved to Cassel. After a public school education, the brothers attended the University of Marburg in order to study law. Here they were mentored by the celebrated jurist, Friedrich Karl von Savigny, who not only immersed them in Roman law but also in antiquarian research. In their mid-fifties, the brothers were made full professors at the Berlin Academy of Science. The brothers concentrated mainly on scholarly works. More or less by accident, they stumbled into doing Children and Household Tales which was intended to be no more than a collection of folklore rather than a treasury to be picked over and polished up by compilers of fairy tales for the very young.

The brothers remained inseparable. After Wilhelm’s marriage to Dortchen Wild (a friend since childhood), Jakob moved in with them and became one of the household. During their growing-up years, both slept in the same bed, and studied at the same table; during their student years, they slept in two beds and studied at two tables in the same room. In adult life, they continued to study at the same table and they slept in adjacent bedrooms. Jakob survived his younger brother by four years. Then the brothers, as they had lived, were buried together.

The brothers spent thirteen years accumulating their folk tales from various sources, chiefly from Hesse and Hanau. In this they were greatly helped by Dortchen, who had grown up listening to many of them told by her old nurse. Eventually more than 200 stories were collected and published in two volumes, the first in 1812 and the second in 1814.

Worthington Co, 1888

About the process, the brothers, for their Preface, wrote, “We have been collecting stories from oral tradition for about thirteen years. We were especially fortunate in our conversations with a peasant woman of Niederzwehrn, who told us most of the tales in the second volume. . . . She remembered the old stories with great exactness; she related the details deliberately, confidently, and with definite self-satisfaction. She spoke slowly so that, with a little practice, we could take down the stories literally. When repeating a tale she never changed anything; she corrected an oversight as soon as she noticed it.”

“Our first care in transcribing the stories was for faithfulness and truth. We have added nothing of our own, nor have we altered the character of either the narrative or the speech.”

—Louis Untermeyer

* * * * *

I have discovered that most compilations of Grimm’s Fairy Tales are much abbreviated and cherry-picked, featuring only the most famous ones. But for your library, I urge you to seek out an unabridged copy. There are plenty to choose from—the work has never been out of print for two centuries now. I was able to snag that splendid edition, The Complete Household Tales of Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm (New York: The Heritage Press, 1962). It features 200 stories, 100 in each volume. The two hardback volumes are boxed separately. Some of the stories you may remember include “The Frog Prince,” “Iron John,” “The King of the Golden Mountain,” “The Golden Goose,” “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” “The Goose Girl,” “Cinderella,” “Rumpelstiltskin,” “The Fisherman and His Wife,” “Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs,” “The Shoes That Were Danced to Pieces,” “Rapunzel,” “Sleeping Beauty,” Hansel and Gretel,” ‘Tom Thumb,” “Bearskin,” “The Fox and the Cat,” etc.

What an imperishable treasure for your family!

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March 28, 2018

Well, it’s beginning to look that way. As an historian of ideas, I’ve been watching for signs of a post-millennial turn (also a 500-year-turn and a century-turn). It has always happened in the past (at least during the last 2,000 years).

In history, there are cycles that reoccur, because nothing ever happens in linear lines—at least not long-term. For the pendulum can only swing so far before there’s a guaranteed course correction.

Last weekend, I followed along as my quilter-wife made her yearly pilgrimage to the annual quilt show in Denver. This year, we were mobbed. Connie couldn’t remember seeing that many people before, attending a regional quilt show. Many were young.

And who’d have believed that vinyl records would ever come back? And old-timey phonographs. Yet that’s what we’re seeing. And, in the process, the young discovering melodic music, rather than the current anything-goes substitutions that we older people tune out as best we can.

Also during the last few weeks, we Kiwanians held our 16th annual reading celebration for area third-graders in our mountain community: specifically six elementary schools: Deer Creek, Elk Creek, Marshdale, Parmalee, Rocky Mountain, West Jeff, and area homeschoolers. Biggest crowd ever! (300 – 400). Standing in a long line were 110 third-graders who so valued having an author gift each of them with their personal choice from 16 of my books—personally inscribed to them. They also got to take a hay ride out to see life buffalo and elk, get their faces painted, and watch six classmates from each school (as top-readers) receive a certificate and a $50 Barnes & Noble gift-card. And, stay till the very end to see which of the third-graders would be lucky enough (in a drawing) to win all 16 of the child-favorite books of ours. Not e-books—but actual books! And such excitement! Such loud clapping!

On March 13, in The Wall Street Journal, was a most provocative article by Ellen Byron titled “The Clean-Living Generation.” Here are some excerpts:

  • 20-somethings, seeking control in uncertain times, find their comfort zone in crafts, meditation, vegetables.
  • THEY DRINK LESS alcohol, eat more vegetables, cut back on meat, meditate often, enjoy knitting and make their own pour-over coffee. Meet the ‘clean lifers,’ the young adults who revel in dodging the indulgences of their elders.
  • Many young adults, having grown up during the recession, pursue healthful living as a way to find balance amid the global uncertainty that continues today.
  • The portability of cans dovetails with their active lifestyle outside, hiking, boating or skiing—the pack-in, pack-out crushability of the can is a big factor with them.
  • They feel they can make a difference, and this influences their spending choices…. This means more saying no to alcohol, no to unhealthy habits, no to animal-based products, and, increasingly, no to unmeasured or uninformed spending…. Talking about how drunk you got the night before used to be a badge of honor, but this new generation would roll their eyes at that.
  • Certainly the most sophisticated [food-related] preferences are led by millennials.
  • Young knitters and crocheters, ages 18 to 34, are learning the craft at about twice the rate of those aged 35 to 54…. Most yarn crafters say it gives them a sense of accomplishment and helps them cope with stress.
  • Millennials and Gen Zers have a much greater sense of balance, they’re less guilty about indulgences because they’re better to their bodies every day.

* * * * *

And, who among us can possibly forget the massive crowds of young people, last weekend, who thronged the streets of our largest cities to protest society’s failure to protect them from being machine-gunned in their classrooms? The largest youth-dominated street crowds since the Vietnam War!

Yes, the times they are a changin’