HAPPY 2019 DAMMIT!
It’s -30F as I wrap up this year’s letter. Remember, way, WAY, back in December of 2015 when we were all falling on our knees, thanking God, the Universe, the Great Spaghetti Monster, and Oprah, that we were done, DONE, with a year that saw so many celebrity deaths? “Enough!” we said. “Bring on 2016!” we said! Remember that?
Fast-forward two long years of an ignorant, self-fellating, orange hellbeast, and we are on the precipice of historic, deplorable, unprecedented, unmitigated, unprecedented collapse of proportions the world has ever seen.
But enough about the Vikings.
If the past two years have shown those of us who are paying attention (a solid third of the country appears not to be), it is that, truly, wretchedly, incredibly anything is possible and nothing is guaranteed. We’re middle-aged now (Millennials, wipe those stupid grins off your faces). At our age, most of us have seen our share of pain, sickness and death. We’ve seen heartache. We’ve seen tragedy. Stuff that makes the nightly news. Stuff that makes you cry spontaneously when you see happy and healthy people who happened not make the nightly news. In Suzy’s line of work and my EMS hobby, we see it all, up close and personal.
But if you’re reading this…you’re still here. You’re still putting one foot in front of the other. You’re still attending AA classes, church, volunteering, healing, doing your best to make the world a better place. Keep running all the way to the finish line, gang. Do the best you can for those around you for as long as you can. What else are we here for? To sit on beanbags, drink microbrews, and play Fortnite? Well, yeah, that’s fun, but you get my point. They’re not mutually-exclusive, is what I’m saying. Piss off.
So, I’m glad you’re here to read this and to continue along this path with the Human-Saxton gang. Another start to a new year where we can take stock, be thankful and hopeful that a set of overpaid, large men will get to tack four more games of a severely overrated sport to the end of their season. I hate football.
My family is doing fairly well, thank you very much. We are in a new house, with a new dog. Suzy has a new job. Tommy and Charlotte are in new schools. And Louis has eight thousand four hundred and twenty-three new hobbies. I will now make a Herculean attempt at organizing a selection of this for your reading and viewing pleasure:
We’ve seen some people walk on (as our Native relations say), some others move or change homes or towns or spouses. Of those who have changed life situations, none has had a greater impact on our lives than Frances Vandorn, our beloved music teacher and friend. After many years of teaching music to scores (see what I did there?) of young people in Bemidji, Frances decided to relocate to Stillwater to be close to one of her two daughters. She has been a fixture of the Bemidji music scene for a generation now and our lives would not be the same had we not connected with her. I will miss falling asleep on her couch during music lessons and watching the kids play their annual concert for the nursing home and feeding her steak frites and wine and chocolate. Good luck, Frances. We will visit. We promise.
The last time you might have heard from me, we had been planning and designing a new home on our land, north of Bemidji. After plenty of time and money designing a net zero home (smaller than the previous house, but not small), our builder of choice crunched the numbers and gave us a figure that sent us into atrial fibrillation. Then we redesigned. Then we got a lower number that only caused us to projectile vomit. Then Suzy walked into a house for sale. In the middle of Bemidji. And sent me an ALL-CAPS text.
And now we live in the middle of town in a tiny home with an old detached garage that kind of, sort of, holds one car, no mudroom, no workshop, no place for a boat, unhinged neighbors who hate our dogs and make a sport of calling the police, road noise, and calendar parking. I miss my chickens, being able to pee in the yard in broad daylight, chopping and burning wood, and I miss the forest. On the bright side, the view of Lake Bemidji is great, we’re walking distance from downtown, biking distance from everything, and our heating bill is peanuts. The kids are happy. Suzy is happy. And I’m happy that they’re happy and I will now quit bitching for the remainder of this letter. Probably.
Suzy is still a healing, cooking, cleaning, organizing, and sewing tornado. She is a Physician at the Veteran’s Affaires clinic in Bemidji where the pay is less, the hours are better, the insurance WAY better, the staff is tremendous, and where the patients write “Happy Thanksgiving” on their naked asses before prostate checks. She misses working with kids and, especially, delivering babies, but the trade-off was mostly worth it in terms of schedule and sanity. She – and the rest of us – are grateful for the change. Almost as grateful as the VA.
Suzy now has the time to do aerobics, yoga, paddle board, and ski. In the summer, she often bikes to work. She is weaving, slowly advancing from scarves, to napkins, to…I don’t know what’s on there right now. She took a trip with our friend, Deanne, to the North Shore two months ago and did a shoe/moccasin making class. They look very cute on her. Suzy would have made an incredible Kindergarten teacher in another life. But you knew that. She is still brilliant, beautiful, and bubbly. Her flexible strength is the bedrock of this healthy and happy family and a blessing to all those around her. But you knew that, too.
Suzy has little patience for voids. In August, when our cabin plans fell apart and she had a week off, she hurled the camping gear and Charlotte into the Prius and drove to Idaho for a mother-daughter camping, hiking, and horseback riding trip. They spent the night with our dear Spanish friend Olga (who I met in a Paris youth hostel in October of 1989 and who is now Charlotte’s godmother). In October, there was a need for doctors to help out in hurricane-ravaged North Carolina, so she spent two weeks shoring up the VA near Fort Bragg. And, recently, when the show choir parents needed help in the sewing room, Suzy charged in, machine in hand, barking out orders like Douglas Macarthur on a Philippine beachhead. “Rip! Glue!! Stitch, by God, stitch like your lives depend on it!” The show choir season is now underway. The kids look good in their glittery, slinky, outfits. Batallion-level sewing days are over, but there will be more to do. Suzy shall return.
Tommy is beginning his second (winter) quarter at Kalamazoo College. Yes, that Kalamazoo, my Kalamazoo College, my mother’s Kalamazoo. We are thankful for short institutional memories and large endowments. Third time’s the charm as they say, and my only regret is that I no longer get to participate in parent-teacher conference love fests. Tommy began his undergraduate career with a 16-day wilderness trip through the Adirondack Park in upstate New York, loving every hard minute of it. My dad, who lives nearby, managed a very quick trip into basecamp to say hello and give him a hug, which was very cool. On campus, he already has good friends, cool professors, and tough classes. He plays on the ultimate frisbee team and appears to be spending time with a diverse set of people of all ages. As far as I know, he’s the only one in that group with experience gutting chickens and making fire with a bow drill, but I could be wrong. For now, he is studying math, possibly economics/business, playing violin in the school/community orchestra, and is still getting straight-As. I assume the possible (inevitable?) B will be quite the shocker. If he manages no more than one B in college we will celebrate by drinking the bitter tears of Katy Human (K’ 91) who received…two.
By the way, Tommy is a great singer. Here he is singing with his brother last year. I hope he does some of this at Kalamazoo. They deserve it.
Other than tending a garden, growing tropical plants from seed, making kombucha, baking cupcakes, bread, and cookies, participating in color-guard, joining the tennis team, playing cello for his high school and all-state orchestras, acting in theater, singing in an a cappella group, dancing and singing solos on the high school show choir, Louis isn’t doing a damned thing and is a rather large disappointment to both of us.
Louis likes to climb trees, and sing, and run. He likes to wander through the woods and have deer walk towards him. I am sure little birdies land on his shoulders and sing songs with him in four part harmony. Louis is a goddamn Disney Character.
One of Louis’ greater accomplishments this year was learning to drive our manual Toyota Matrix. He resisted, mightily, coming up with every excuse under the sun for weeks, worried about stalling in town. “I’m in a hurry.” “I’ll drive it next week.” “I want to practice more with you first.”
Finally, he played a very powerful card, learned in our beloved, tree-hugging, charter school: He used an “I” statement: “I’m not comfortable driving the Matrix.”
Dad had a Thug Parent Ace ready to slam on the table: “I don’t care.”
Discomfort is often a good teacher. Louis is now grateful for the stick skill and Tommy tested out of French I in college. You’re both welcome. Their level of stubbornness, however, is rookie-level minor league stuff compared to that of our steely-gazed, resolute, granite-jawed, Hall-of-Famer.
Charlotte, is bold, bright, and beautiful. Master of the eye-roll. Empress of assumptions. Doyenne of dismissals. “Dad,” she says, countering me, “that was in, like, the 80’s. School is nothing like that now.”
Me: “How do you know that?”
Me: “You realize you weren’t around in the 80’s, right?”
Her: Waving a hand. “You may go now.”
After surviving 8th-grade with minimal scarring, Charley spent the summer working in a clothing consignment store, singing and dancing at the Guthrie theater camp, biking around town (because we fucking live in town, remember??), and traveling with Mom (above). She is now charging forth as a happy, busy high-schooler, playing violin, singing in the choir, leaping around stage with Louis (in exquisitely-sewed outfits of course) as a member of our competitive show choir and, occasionally, attending class. Brag: it has been some years since a freshman girl has made it onto the varsity show choir. Charlotte not only did this, but landed one of the show solos and I will now display a very rare moment of Minnesota understatement: She’s not bad. After fifteen years, our girl has finally found a non-lethal use for those pipes. Keep your eye on her. (Click here for the video of their parent show the other day).
If our move into town has been strange for me, it has been Gitmo-like Alice in Wonderland for our four-leggeds: “What do you mean we have to stay in the green grassy area? Hold on, I cannot go fight with that German Short-Hair? Didn’t you see him piss on our corner? What’s with the collars and leashes? What’s wrong with barking? You never got on our case for barking before. And why, in god’s name, are you following me around with those plastic bags and picking up my shit? Who does that? WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS???”
Anyway, our critter survival strategies are morning walks down through Bemidji State campus and back. Bear is old, sore, and cranky and has made the equivalent of two “suicide by cop” attempts with me this fall, but I am more patient than I come across on paper, so he is still here. We are getting along fine. Henry is smart as a crow and as observant as a coyote. He can dive head-first into deep snow and catch rodents. He is a balls-to-the-walls, high octane, nuclear bundle of energy, and requires having his butt run ragged every day. Our summer routine is to bike through campus, him blasting his way down the boulevard, through yards, past startled gardeners and pedestrians. If I slow down or stop to talk to someone, he has been known to bite me on the leg in annoyance. I have likewise been known to kick him in the head. Being part Border Collie, part Australian Sheppard, and part Blue Heeler, Henry is designed to avoid kicks in the head, so I rarely connect. In the winter, we will sometimes bike, sometimes walk, or sometimes do this.
Still adjusting to town (I’M NOT COMPLAINING!), I am healthy, and am thankful for a good community, great family, and wonderful friends. Still syruping. Still plucking deer from our (houseless!) land, north of town. Still coaching some nordic ski. I’ve taken up boxing and MMA with a great local gym, full of really neat people. Yes, I get plenty of bruises. No, I do not get punched in the head. Yes, it is good for me. Also, after what seems like a lifetime, I’ve resumed coaching (and playing) tennis, helping out with both boys and girls high school teams, as well as the Bemidji State Women’s team. Somehow, the strokes came back after some scrubbing of what turned out to be a rather thin layer of rust. A second serve has appeared from the nether-sphere. Miracles can happen. I always enjoy teaching and working with young people and since I’m barely more mature than they are, we always seem to get along great.
My fiction writing has taken a hit in the last year and a half because, honestly, it’s hard to come up with shit that is more terrifying and insane than the real world at the moment. I dunno. Infant vampires who crawl out of the crib and attack you in the middle of the night? Boa constrictors slithering up out of the toilet? Spiders in the bed sheets? I got nuthin’. The manuscripts are still on the shelf and I’ve added a few other projects to the mix. There’s always something to write about, isn’t there? Maybe a review of doggie poop bags. (Pro-tip: be wary of the ones the newspaper comes in). Much of the past year or two has been fighting in the Resistance in one way or another. I am tired and have scars but have had a few impacts here and there. There is now caselaw in Minnesota with my name on it. Pro-tip for those fighting for truth, justice, and the American way: Keep 80% of your battles local. Know your politicians. Know your laws. Fight the good fight!
Otherwise, I spend lots of time rescuing, volunteering, and helping out in general. The “Robert Rescue App” is still on many phones in the area and I usually show up when it is pressed. In December, I finally managed to put together something I’d been thinking of doing for some years: a “Girl’s Skilz Day” for Charlotte and ten of her friends. We spent an entire Sunday changing car tires, jumping batteries, learning first-aid, practicing emergency 911 scenarios, exploring an ambulance, studying situational awareness, and working on combat & self-defense in our MMA/boxing gym. From there, they walked, in groups, half a mile back to the house. Louis, the ninja, ambushed them part way, silly string in hand. Tommy and his pals parked along their route, looking creepy, testing their awareness and avoidance skills. We finished with a pizza party and cookie decorating. There was much laughing. There was little eye-rolling.
So, that’s the news from Lake Bemidji. Come visit if you can. Ice fishing is right out the front door. Louis will serve you a kombucha. Charlotte will sing you a song. Suzy will repair your shirt. And I will wax your skis and groom your trails.
Love from us.
Robert, Suzy, Tommy, Louis, and Charlotte