Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On this MLK, Jr. Day, I’ve listened to various commentary and read about Dr. King. He remains a stalwart in my mind as a true American hero, but like many others, I remain saddened and conflicted on the state of race relations in our country. I was old enough to clearly remember the day Dr. King was killed, but up until that time, I don’t think I was aware of him or his significance. Heck, I was not even seven years old at the time and was living in very white St. Paul, Minnesota. Little did I know at that time, but Dr. King would come up again and again throughout my life as a symbol of Freedom and many other ideals.

We discussed Dr. King’s assassination in school. The only context I really remember was a teacher describing that it was done by a racist southerner. This was roughly the same time that we started discussing the Civil War in school. We had posters with Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. juxtaposed as martyrs who gave their lives for freedom. On one side was the white man from Illinois, President Lincoln, who used war to free the slaves. He was shot for his actions by an evil southern sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth. On the other side was a black man from Atlanta, Georgia, who led the nonviolent movement to provide blacks with equal rights as citizens. He, too, was shot by a southern sympathizer and racist, James Earl Ray, who was born, ironically, less than 100 miles away from Lincoln’s birthplace.

One thing that made the whole discussion of the Civil War, Abe Lincoln, MLK, and Civil Rights so difficult for me was that the perpetrators of all the evil were southerners and/or southern sympathizers. I was personally conflicted because my grandparents on my father’s side were from South Carolina. The Deep South! I KNEW my grandparents and THEY were not evil. In fact, they were both what I would consider the most honest and honorable people I’ve ever known. The first song I learned to play on the piano was “Dixie,” much to the delight of my grandparents. Whenever discussions of the South came up, I felt somewhat compelled to try to defend them, and by extension, the South in general.

I later felt that same way any time the Civil War or objections to the Confederate Battle Flag came up. At the time, I didn’t appreciate or understand the significance that flag held to African Americans. I still feel that most southerners held to that icon as a symbol of their own equality vis-a-vis the northern states, and as a symbol of pride for their people and region. It was merely a vocal few, I believed, who attempted to use the banner as a symbol of oppression and hate. Despite my beliefs, the fact that the latter’s use of the flag as a weapon has made it become so. While at one time I would have proudly flown the banner in camaraderie with my southern brethren (both, black and white), I would never do so today. But I digress. This is about Dr. King!

My next early encounter with Dr. King was in a college-level speech class at the University of Minnesota. In addition to orations by Sir Winston Churchill and President John F. Kennedy, we studied speeches by Representative Barbara Jordan to the Democratic Convention in 1976, and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” masterpiece. As a young political science student, I was mesmerized by all, but was particularly captivated by Dr. King’s strong voice, brilliant pacing, and his wonderful intonation as a Baptist preacher.

It was not until later, as an adult, that I learned much more about this American hero. This included while in Law School reading his Letter From a Birmingham Jail and following up with King’s book, “A Trumpet of Conscience,” by the King Legacy Series and “Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” by David J. Garrow. As I studied King, I recognized that he, like ALL of us, was a flawed man. He was pilloried for his flaws, just as opponents of ALL great leaders attempt to utilize human failures as weapons to obscure the message. Unfortunately for King, it took him to die a martyr for his message to take hold.

Today, reflecting upon Dr. King and his legacy, of the many wonderful ideals of Dr. King’s Dream, there is a single phrase from that famous speech that continues to inspire me – Let Freedom Ring! Freedom is one of the defining callings of my life. It took me to the military to serve as a Soldier and later to serve as a lawyer in further search for freedom and justice. It continues today in my desire to serve my country and my interest in national politics in general. Dr. King uses the refrain, “Let Freedom Ring,” from our country’s informal anthem, “My Country Tis of Thee,” to extol a Nation where ALL are considered equal, not only by God, but by each other, and to describe a place where bigotry has nowhere to hide. Then, and only then, will we be free at last! What a wonderful, positive, forward-looking sentiment during these petulant times. Thank you, Dr. King!

My Mother

For very many reasons, I think my mom is perhaps the single most important influence in my life. She more than likely was the first person that I really remembered with much clarity. Like most moms, she was always there to feed me, put me to bed, help me dress, kiss my owies, teach me life’s basic tasks, an just plain old nurture me.

Me and Mom, Christmas Cruise 2011

My mom was a strong, vibrant, intelligent, and fiercely independent woman. She rarely “worked” during her life, but she was always quite active. Mom graduated with a degree in education, the “preferred” path for women at that time. I don’t think her heart was ever in it, though. Earlier, she had expressed an interest in becoming a lawyer, but her guidance counselor told her quite abruptly that women just didn’t do that.

I know that my grandfather supported her – and even offered to pay for law school – but she decided to follow the recommended path to become an educator. I remember her working a couple of times as a substitute teacher, but that was a very rare occasion. Her education background probably lead to the many battles we had around homework and grades. I also suspect it also has something to do with me attending Montessori school in lieu of kindergarten. It almost certainly led me and my siblings to be voracious readers.

Mom was raised in a very small home in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with her parents, her older sister, and her younger brother. Her father owned a granite company, Grewe Granite Company. Her mother was an active, stay-at-home mom who could cook like no other. Grandpa Grewe’s family came from Germany (though now I believe the area may be part of modern-day Poland). Grandma Grewe was second generation Swedish. Mom and her sister shared a rocky relationship throughout their lives. Her brother, on the other hand, was a source of comfort and pride. They remained close, albeit across distances, throughout her life.

Mom grew up Lutheran. In St. Cloud, you were either Lutheran or Catholic. The two high schools in town were Tech and Cathedral. They hated each other and very rarely interacted with one another. Mom went to Tech. Imagine my grandparents’ surprise when Mom fell for an older man (by eight years), who was a Catholic mutt (Irish, Scottish, Spanish, and who knows what else). Despite this, my grandparents appeared to embrace my dad and never questioned us kids being raised Catholic.

Mom played French horn and coronet in high school, sang and played the piano very well. In college, she lived in the Kappa Delta sorority house, where she met a group of women who would remain lifelong friends. Many of these same girls were involved in a group that supported the military. I think it was the “Angels,” or something similar. Mom loved the cute uniforms and marching in parades. It was no surprise that she fell for a returning Navy veteran who lived next door in the law fraternity!

Mom and Dad on a Caribbean vacation

I was born shortly after Mom graduated from the University of Minnesota. My sister, Pam, actually graduated with her! As there was less than a year between Pam and I, as a result, there was almost no way that Mom could embark on a career as a teacher. There was not the same daycare back then and the normal practice was that married women did not work. I remember Mom telling me that my dad had told her in no uncertain terms that he did not need (nor want) his wife to work. What a difference from today!

But as any mother can tell you, my mom certainly worked – and worked hard! Two kids under two years of age is difficult for anyone. Mom fed us, taught us, managed the home, and even took care of the family dogs. In those early days, Mom did it all. My dad was mostly absent, having to follow the rules for young lawyers. We rarely saw him home before 6:30PM and he even worked at least a half-day every Saturday.

As you would expect, Mom was very involved in our school, school work, and school activities. There weren’t the same extracurricular, outside of school/evening events back then, but Mom was always involved in the PTA and served as both Cub Scout and Brownie leader. She was also very involved in the American Association of University Women (AAUW). Again, back then it was a bit uncommon for women to have University degrees. Mom was proud of that and wanted to be involved with professional women. She was NOT a “woman’s libber,” but did believe that women should be able to do whatever they wanted in life. For her, it was a personal choice to be a stay at home mom. She was fiercely proud of that as well. She did buck the term “housewife,” though, and preferred to be called a “wife and mother.” “I wasn’t married to a house,” she would say!

Before too long, a brother and then a baby sister joined our family. There was very little time for Mom to even think of joining the work force. After her four kids were all school-age, though, she sought out other activities and hobbies to keep her occupied. In addition to leadership roles with AAUW, Mom got involved in local libraries, church, and in the community. Back in the early 1970s, Mom got involved with an organization trying to get a “People Mover” transportation project going in the Twin Cities. In that, I think she was ahead of her time, but I suspect that effort laid some of the groundwork for the light rail system now operating in the cities.

When I was about ten years old, we moved into what you would probably call a mansion on the prestigious Summit Avenue in St. Paul. It was a huge, 8000 square foot home that required my mother to act as property manager in addition to her roles as wife and mother. The home “required” frequent dinner parties. Dad’s friends and clients, along with the Kappa Delta crew, were among the many regular drop in guests. Mom always was able to spin together drinks, hors d’ourves, and often dinner. More on 965 Summit in a later post.

I remember loving whenever MY mom came to school. Any time parents showed up at school (mostly moms), I was always proud that MY mom was the youngest and best looking of all! I still think of that today and think that was a big reason why I wanted to have kids at a young age. I didn’t want my kids embarrassed by their parents being old fogies. Mom always looked much younger than her friends and peers. She WAS young. I think she was barely 22 when my sister Pam was born. Even with Jenifer, the youngest, she was only 30. She was blonde and what dad would probably call slim and curvy.

As indicated above, Mom loved music and instilled that love in all her children. She loved to play the piano. She loved to dance. The dancing, though, came later. My mom and dad learned that during a trip to Jamaica. That first Calypso dance ultimately became their love song: Yellow Bird. From the time they learned to move together with Calypso dancing, Mom and Dad tried their hand at ballroom dancing. They weren’t great, but were quite elegant together. When I think of them now, I think that perhaps when they were dancing was when they felt the most in love.

For years, we would go to church separately Pam and I went to the Catholic Church with our dad and Mom would go by herself to Gloria Dei Lutheran Church. By the time we got to high school, I think Mom realized how close the two faiths actually were. Spurred by a strong desire to worship together as a family (not to mention the two younger kids in Catholic school), Mom chose to become a Catholic. Not only did she change her faith, but she became an exceptionally strong Catholic. She was elected to the Parish Council at St. Luke’s church, became spellbound by a several inspiring priests, and spent hundreds of hours volunteering in many roles in the church. I think she cemented her faith even more when she found the writings of G.K. Chesterton, an English convert to Catholicism in the late 1800s/early 1900s. Chesterton became her soulmate after my dad died, as a fellow convert and a conservative.

My mother and I could talk for hours. She was the one who always encouraged me. She was the one who told me I could be President. I clearly remember Mom telling me that if she even got stranded on a desert island, she hoped I would be there, too, because she felt I was smart enough and handy enough to get us off. That was quite an ego boost for a young kid! Almost everything that she did and said to me was FOR me. She was always looking to pull out the very best from me. True, she did tell me that I should date more girls before getting too serious with Amy, but she long ago admitted her mistake on that score!

I could go on and on and on about all the great influences that my mother provided to me throughout my life. She taught me kindness, compassion, love, reliability, humor, integrity, sharing, humility, empathy, perseverance, trust, and many others. She was ALWAYS there for me and my family, whenever we needed her. She willingly served as babysitter, including for all our trips, and dog sitter for our dogs.

I can’t finish a discussion of Mom’s influence on me without discussing one of Mom’s major influences. We knew it simply as the “Bridge Club.” It consisted mostly of Mom’s sorority sisters and their husbands. I think it first started as a way to get them all together from time to time. That certainly worked, but before too long, even the bridge playing got relegated to the back seat. The husbands continued to play for a while, but the wives spent the outings keeping each other up with their growing families and cheering each-other on. The bond of that “club” is something that I have rarely seen before. All of the women from that group were – and are – very proud of their lifetimes of encouragement and support. Rightly so!

I think that one of the primary models for me was my mother. I might look like my dad – and work in the same profession – but I believe I am more akin to my mother than anyone else. It is from her that I learned great lessons of life.

Here we go!

This blog is a follow-up to the “52 Weeks of Wisdom” emails I sent to my two children every Monday morning in 2018. At the end of the year I realized that I had omitted much. Sure, there may have been plenty of so-called “wisdom,” but I failed to tell many personal stories and certainly failed to introduce the many influences and mentors in my life. This blog is my attempt to rectify that. I may at some point add some or all of my “52 Weeks” to this blog, but it is not my current intent to do so.

I am writing this blog primarily for my kids. I don’t really care if anyone else reads it, but I apologize in advance if I told a story about you that you don’t particularly like or if I re-tell something that you don’t remember the same way I do. I certainly don’t intend to demean, disrespect, embarrass, or otherwise do a disservice to anyone. These are merely reflections of my experiences and people in my life. They are told from my point of view. They are not necessarily 100% accurate, but are how I remember them. I certainly welcome corrections or additions, since I KNOW my memory is less than stellar.

We’ll see where this goes, but for now . . . here we go!!!!