Opinions

Wed
19
Sep

VanHaren: Heading ‘uptown’ was big part of growing up

When I was kid growing up in the 1940s and 1950s on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls, hardly anything was more thrilling for us farm kids than the chance to go “uptown.” Perhaps you think Oconto Falls was not a very sophisticated place, and you’d probably be right, but then I wasn’t a very sophisticated guy, either. There were many wonderful places to visit uptown. They probably weren’t so exciting for the town kids as they were for me, because they were there all the time.

Still, I wonder if they appreciated all the charms of the town like I did. I’ll bet not many of them ever went to Tait’s Elevator, for example. Tait’s Feed and Fuel was on the northeast side, next to the railroad tracks, and we’d go there often because that’s where we’d take our oats to have them made into something we called “ground feed.” There they’d take the oats we’d brought in and they’d add the nutrients that my dad thought were essential to his increasing his milk production.

Wed
12
Sep

Sid’s was the epicenter of the Fabulous ’50s

It’s always seemed a little strange to me the way we break time down into decades. (You know: “the Fabulous ’50s,” “the Roaring ’20s,” etc.) Because to me, my life doesn’t break down that way. As I look back at my life, I realize that a lot of the phases of my life cross over decade lines, and some of them are way short of a decade. It isn’t fair to cut history into slices of 10 years.

Wed
05
Sep

Column: It makes me weak in the knees

There’s a commercial on TV which makes my knees cringe. Maybe you’ve seen it. There’s a guy (obviously equipped with a video camera on his hard hat) climbing a cell tower in Alaska. All you see is his hands reaching for climbing pegs and the tower covered in ice. Every time I see it, I can feel this weird sensation in the back of my knees.

I wasn’t what you’d call an intrepid hero back when I was a kid. (I’m still not an intrepid sort, I guess.) There were lots of things that I was a little afraid of, but I didn’t like to let anyone know that I was afraid, so in order to take my mind off some things, I’d “count.”

Example: I was not very good with heights, and some of the chores we had to do on the farm involved some climbing. At silo-filling time, for instance, we’d have to climb the silos to put the filler pipes into the the top of the silo.

Wed
22
Aug

Remembering uptown after hearing about downtowns

In small towns all over America today, you can hear discussions about improving our downtowns. With the development of malls and big box stores on the outskirts of towns, many downtowns sort of withered up and died. Small businesses found it hard to compete against the convenience of the malls and big superstores.

My mind often goes back to days when I was a lot younger and things were different. When I was a kid, Friday night was a big night in Oconto Falls. Football under the lights in the fall, basketball games at the high school in the winter, all that good stuff. Friday nights in Oconto Falls were special all year around. The stores stayed open on Friday nights until 9:00. Wow! Farmers like us came to town to do our shopping, and the stores were open on only that one night.

Wed
08
Aug

‘Now I know my E-T-As’

Authors who wish to try to ink an opinion may find it hard to do so if arbitrary constraints obtain which limit normal writing. My point is this: If I may not apply my usual supply of alpha marks, it disallows virtually all my vocabulary and scripting skills and I can’t publish my opinions succinctly; my capability will diminish significantly, allowing for no normal communication. I’m advising you not to try to do this; it isn’t worth all your machinations …
I give up! Does the paragraph you just read seem weird to you? Look at it again. Does anything strike you? Probably not. But I was attempting to write without using the letter “e.” Every once in a while when I was teaching, I’d assign my kids the task of attempting to write a paragraph that way, thinking that by doing so, I’d force them to substitute synonyms for words that contained e’s, maybe help them to build better vocabularies.

Wed
01
Aug

The odyssey of a stool in the school

Many years ago — probably 55? — in the early days of my teaching career, I found an old wooden stool the janitors at the junior high were throwing away because one of the legs and two of the cross-pieces had fallen apart. I rescued the stool and re-glued it. That stool became a permanent part of my classroom furnishings for the rest of my career.

But that’s not the end of the story. When Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre did its first production of “Godspell” in 1977, one of the props people asked if they could use my stool in the show. Well, why not? They asked if I cared if they painted it (it was a natural shade of oak). Well, sure. So when I got the stool back after the show, it was very colorful – yellow, green and orange. Very “Godspell-y.” But that was OK. It gave it character.

Wed
25
Jul

Dad’s face still staring back in the mirror

Fourteen years ago, I wrote a column, which I called “When did my dad start appearing in my mirror?” Now 14 years later, I am even more struck by the image I see when I look in a mirror.
Sometimes — not always — but sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I see my dad’s face where my face used to be. Mind you, I’m not complaining when I see my dad’s face there; after all, I am my father’s son.
There’s a line from a ’90s rock song (but I’ll be darned if I can remember who it’s by) that says, “Though my friends mostly don’t see it, I see my father in my own face.” When I was a kid, I used to look at my dad, and I’d think “I don’t resemble him at all.” I always thought I looked more like my mom. To be honest, I sometimes still look at myself and see a little resemblance to Mom. I think that the older I get, the more I’m reminded of my dad. Mind you, I don’t spend much time looking in the mirror; these are passing glances I’m referring to here.

Wed
18
Jul

Column: Make sure people know how special they are

During our lifetime, each of us had others who did something or said something that influenced us, motivated us or in some way helped shape our life. I hope you will take a few minutes to think about who those people were/are in your life.

If that special person/persons are still living, think about telling them and thanking them. I will always remember a letter I received from someone who I hired and supervised at the bank. Her letter meant the world to me. It made me think about people who touched my life in a special way.

One of those people was a teacher, Lillian Abrahamson. You readers in the Tigerton area no doubt remember her. She was an amazing lady. Mrs. Abrahamson approached me when I was a freshman at Marion High School. She was an English teacher and also a forensic coach.

Wed
18
Jul

Column: That unlucky combination of Friday and 13

Our son Chris was born on Friday the 13th. He turned 13 on Friday the 13th. His birthday has been on Friday the 13th seven times; last Friday, July 13, was his birthday. It’s a good thing he doesn’t have a superstition about the number 13 or of Friday the 13th, right?

There’s a name for the fear of the number 13: triskaidekaphobia. (Tris-ky-dek-uh-phobia. It’s from the Greek “triskaideka,” meaning “13,” and “phobos,” meaning “fear.”) Paraskevidekatriaphobia is the fear of Friday the 13th.

Another son, T.J., chose to wear the number 13 on his team jerseys in high school, and when he graduated, his brother Mike took over the number. When they played soccer against each other in college, both of them wore the number 13. No triskaidekaphobia in our family.

My all-time favorite cartoon character, Pogo, more than once stated: “Friday the 13th came on Wednesday this month.” I’m not quite sure whether Pogo was superstitious or not.

Wed
04
Jul

Why do I write? That’s easy

I have been writing this column for nearly 25 years. Haven’t missed a week in all those years. People ask me how I do it; how do I come up ideas week after week? Why do I do it, anyway? I always say it’s the only discipline left in my life, but, in truth, I really like to write.

I didn’t always like to write. I didn’t do much writing as a kid because nobody assigned me to write very much when I was in grade school. Grade school English classes (they were called “language”) consisted mainly in memorizing grammatical rules and definitions and in diagramming sentences. I was probably the only kid at St. Anthony’s in Oconto Falls who actually liked diagramming sentences.

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