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Life Stories

Life Stories

A very special professor at Wisconsin-Eau Claire retires, Dr. Steve Baumgardner

I had the privilege of taking Dr. Steve Baumgardner for Social Psychology at UWEC, and I’m not sure what I enjoyed more, his personality, teaching style, or the class itself. I never wanted to miss his class as it was interesting, entertaining, and educational. Yes, learning can be fun and he had a lot to do with it.

Quick story: I remember some years ago, sitting in my Social Psychology class, and Steve was talking about the major reasons current students attended college. To gain an informal poll, Steve decided to query the class on why they were involved in higher education. To me, it seemed like an appropriate topic for our social psychology course, and I was interested in hearing the results.

To begin, he asked the class how many of them were in school “to party,” and roughly, 20 hands went up. Very few of us were surprised at this result. Next, he asked, how many were looking for a spouse – about 12 or so hands appeared. When he asked about not knowing what else we wanted to do after high school, about ten or so students responded. Next, he asked “to get a degree to get a good job,” and about 25 hands went up. No surprise there. Lastly, he asked the class how many were here “to learn,” and I raised my hand. I quickly looked around, as my hand was the only one raised. I think he was surprised too, and nodded to me as to say there’s nothing wrong with having a strong desire to learn. At that moment, I realized this was the first time he had conducted such a poll, and my guess told me he was surprised at the results. I’m guessing, too, that he probably expected more students to say they were here to “learn” and have a strong “thirst for knowledge”. I guess that would not be the only time he was surprised while teaching at the university.

Sad to hear Professor Baumgardner passed last year (2017). What a great man and an effective teacher. May he rest in peace. 

Not so good Cop Story (From My Experience)

Many years ago and some months after college graduation, I had a trip planned to Europe. I was going to stay for about a year in Europa, working, learning and traveling wherever the wind took me. To celebrate my voyage, two siblings and I decided to have a few beers at Sanders Park in Racine County. Of course, in lieu of the occasion, these beers would be more expensive and tastier than typical American beers as they were Lowenbrau (imported from Munich, part of West Germany at the time).

It was going to be a relaxing visit to the park; we would split a 6 pack between 3 adults. Because imported beers did not have the twist-off, it took a few moments before we enjoyed our first taste of the beverages and before we could savor the hops and malt, we all simultaneously noticed a Racine County sheriff slowly on patrol. My sister, who had spent much time in Racine County quickly, told us to hide them. I looked at her with a quizzical look as to say, "There’s nothing wrong with having a beer in a county park." Foolish me!

The Racine County sheriff slowly walked over to us like he owned the patches of grass and tall oak trees we sat under and he asked what we were doing. If he had already made up his mind, then why the verbal dialogue? I wanted to say we were looking for dinosaurs under picnic tables or thought Sasquatch may be nearby but quickly regained my composure and said, "Officer, we're celebrating. I'm leaving for Europe this weekend and my sister and brother just wanted to hang out before the voyage." As I studied his law enforcement demeanor, I quickly realized nuance was not part of his vocabulary, at least not on that day.

He told us it was unlawful to consume alcohol in a county park. Immediately knew we'd have to pay but didn't know the amount. He took out his pad and began to write each of us a fine. I asked him what he was doing and he said it will cost each of you $37 for consuming alcohol (two swigs of imported beer) in a county park. I explained to him that this was our first time in this park with a beer and in my deepest lawfulness, had no idea this was fine worthy. Perhaps we missed the sign at the front of the park because we hadn't been together for quite some time and our talking preceded sign reading. Mr. Officer, please give us a warning and we'll know for next time.

 

 

 

 

 

"Yeah, there's so much less freedom in Europe than the States"

Critically thinking, I had to delve into the specifics of this case. I asked him the point of such a law and his initial facial expression indicated this was not a typical question. He said there were often huge gatherings of rowdy kids with kegs of beer and people partying into the night and it gets out of hand and the police are called. I said, "With due respect, do you see any similarities between our group and the group you just described? Do you have the ultimate discretion to interpret the law based on the situation?" He just glared at me – he knew I knew what he was doing and I knew if he had the discretion (some 30 years ago), he would have nailed me with a $500 fine.

A moment before he left, and moments after the empty beer and the fine, he had the gall (or some may say ignorance) to say we don't realize how free we are in this county. He continued, wait until you get to Europe, you’ll realize how free we really are. I thought he was completely out of order, just tell us we violated the park rule, give us the ticket and leave us alone. If you're going to scold us one last time and tell us how great our country is, look at this situation uniquely and use this as a teaching moment. Because police have so much discretion to interpret and enforce the law, effective and empathetic law enforcement officials might look at every situation differently and perhaps show empathy and understanding instead of his strict authoritarian stance.

Several months later, I'm sitting in a park in Munich having a beer and a smoke and no one bothering me – no rules against consuming alcohol in a park, no harassment by Die Polizei, just enjoying a beer with friends some of whom are partially unclothed. Yeah, there’s so much less freedom in Europe than in the States. At that point, I’m shaking my head at the actions and attitude of one such Racine County sheriff.

Plowing in the Rear View Mirror…

He does not want to plow any longer. For the sake of this story, we’ll call him Frank. Frank was born and raised in Wisconsin and for the past 20 years, he has been responsible for plowing various public school district parking lots in Kenosha County. Because of this responsibility, it’s extremely important the parking lots are cleared and cleaned by the time teachers and staff started to arrive in the morning.

He’s just tired of the work. He’s tired of the lack of sleep in the winter, especially with a lot of snow. He’s tired of looking at snow as a burden -- he has not been able to enjoy the beauty of snow -- there’s too much work and responsibility associated with the white stuff. At age 62, he wants to retire and have more flexibility in his life. He just cannot stomach getting up at 4 am to plow school parking lots any longer. With a stormy forecast, he just can’t stomach getting up every 60 to 90 minutes in the middle of the night to check the weather. This routine has gotten old and makes him feel old too. Over the last 4 years or so, his area has averaged about 70 inches of snow per season which means there were many nights where he was on pins and needles not knowing what old man winter would bring.

Snow Plowing

Sometime last year, his financial advisor did his financial numbers and he could retire if he did not change his spending habits too dramatically. It came as a surprise to Frank and his wife that they had the flexibility to retire. They tried to be as frugal as possible over the years trying to put away what they could so someday this day would come. Frank did not have to hear that retirement statement more than once, he knew what he wanted to do. Another chapter of his life would begin. His wife was happy for Frank but she still enjoyed her job in health care so she would continue to work.

Frank wants to spend more time with his grandchildren. I'm sure he has projects to tackle around the house and in the yard when the weather cooperates. He also wants to appreciate the white stuff that falls in winter. Who knows, he may want to begin to like winter sports again. He’ll have options now and plenty of flexibility with retirement. While his wife continues to work, he’ll be responsible for household duties. He does not mind this; this new lifestyle will be a welcome change of pace for him.

Ein Perfekter Sturm (A Perfect Storm)​

A relative of mine was going to spend a week in Chicago in early February. He was visiting from Austria and was interested in attending a Bulls' game at the United Center. Knowing the dates of the visit, I secured three tickets weeks before the event -- one for him and the other for his brother. That would be their maiden voyage to the stadium that Michael Jordan helped build.

A few days before the game, I learned of a winter storm warning for Chicagoland for Thursday and Friday. The forecast was accurate when they had estimated 12 inches of snow during a 24-hour period.

Plan B. I would no longer drive 40 miles from the 'burbs but would rely on our commuter rail for assistance. On several snowy occasions during past winters, the Kennedy was a parking lot, sometimes traveling about 1 mile per 6 minutes. This night, I would not test my fate.

The ticket for Friday's game displayed a start time of 7 pm on the monochrome tickets printed at home. As I gazed out the train window onto the snowy and cold landscape, I decided to preview the game. As I did, several online outlets had the game scheduled for 8:30 pm (but didn't officially start until 8:41 pm). Apparently, it was an ESPN game so they pushed back the start time. My first thought was this was ET, which meant the game would start at 7:30 pm. No such luck!

My original plan was to take the 4:37 pm train to Union Station and then take a bus to the United Center. I'd rendezvous with my relatives as they made their way down from the north side. With a game at 7 pm and doors opened at 5:30 pm, we'd have about 90 minutes to wander around, take some pics and watch those phenomenal athletes show off some of their skill warming up.

 

I was able to jump on the express train at 4:10 pm instead of 4:37 pm. I'd have a little more time to get over to the UC. The bad news, now realizing the game time was pushed back 90 minutes, my challenge was to determine how to kill extra time without being cold. At that point, I dreamed of much warmer weather when it comes to killing time in the Loop.

Having a delayed start also impacted my return train trip. If I had known the game was going to start at 8:30 pm, I may have driven, having more time to get there and giving me more flexibility. Unfortunately, only two trains after 10 pm: 10:35 pm and a 12:25 am to Libertyville. I wanted to see the entire game but didn't want to board the train 25 minutes post-midnight so my play was the 10:35 pm train.

Michael Jordan Statue

On the return trip, I saw several Bulls' fans taking the 10:35 pm train back to the burbs. A few were miffed at how TV, in this case, ESPN runs the roost. Fortunately, it was a competitive game. Unfortunately, I had to leave with 6 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter.

 

It was a perfect storm in several ways. One, first Bulls' tickets that I have not secured in over 6 years and then postponing the event by 90 minutes. In addition, a snowstorm of the like we experience every 3-4 years on the night of the event. What are the chances?

 

It wasn’t just the snow; the downtown Chicago air had an old man winter bite to it. In addition, for anyone living in Chicago in February, the main streets may be plowed and the secondary streets may not be plowed, that may take days for all streets to be plowed. Walking to various bus stops, only a third of all sidewalks had those 12 inches of the white stuff removed. To address many crosswalks, you had either to wear waterproof boots or have NBA leaping ability.

The irony is I spent 8 hours of time watching 30 minutes of professional basketball. That may not be how ESPN looks at it but that’s my interpretation.

After getting home at midnight and dusting the snow off my boots and pants, I realized things really did work out well. My relatives were able to stay for the entire game and saw the Bulls come back from a 15-point deficit to win the game in the closing seconds. They didn't seem to mind the many stoppages of play as they typically had entertainers during timeouts. Lasting memories -- watching the Bulls and Timberwolves compete and marveled at the grandness and beauty of the United Center. My intent was to show two of my Austrian relatives a good time at an NBA game -- and I succeeded regardless of my individual challenges.

I Ought to Buy you a Hot Dog

Tom Brookshier died today at the age of 78 (January 29, 2010). He played cornerback for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1953-1960. Later, he went into broadcasting, and in 1965, became a color commentator for CBS. He broadcast three Super Bowls with Pat Summerall and did other pre-and post-game shows. While broadcasting for CBS, some of the broadcasters he paired with included Pat Summerall, Jack Whitaker, Jack Buck, Dick Vermeil, and Lindsay Nelson. He broadcast NFL games on CBS until 1986.

Years ago (1971), when I was just a kid, I briefly met and spoke to Tom Brookshier in Milwaukee. He and Jack Whitaker were walking outside the old County Stadium getting ready for an NFL game (Eagles versus Packers). As my dad and I were walking, I saw three or four dollars come from Tom’s pocket. I quickly scooped it up and ran up to them, and at first, they gave me a quizzical look to say, “What do you want, kid?” I initially asked Tom Brookshier, “is this your money?” He quickly said no without checking his pockets. After Jack Whitaker checked both his pockets and realized he was not missing any money, Tom Brookshier said, “By golly, it is my money.” He then said, “I ought to buy you a hot dog,” grabbed the money from my hand, and walked away.

Hot Dog Stand

My father was not too happy with him. He was surprised Mr. Brookshier could not even spare a dollar for a kid who was just being honest. Not even a thank you! Being a father with class and self-control, he did not want to create a scene but I could tell what he was thinking – something about Mr. Brookshier being a cheapskate but he would not say it out loud. At the time, I did not care about the money – I just thought it was fun to talk with two well-known sport’s broadcasters. Brookshier continued to broadcast on CBS for another 15 years so when my dad and I would see him on TV, he would just shake his head remembering that day and the comment Tom Brookshier made about buying me a hotdog.

May Tom Brookshier rest in peace.

Be Careful When Using Cheap Versus Expensive In the Grocery Business

 

Many years ago, I worked for an older gentleman (Jim) in the health food industry. He had spent his adult life working in the grocery business and eventually owned two small local grocery stores. One was a small mom-and-pop store for those who needed some essential items and the other was a vitamin shop that evolved into a health food store. During all of those years, he acquired the necessary knowledge and a unique way of communicating to his customers to help grow his business and make it a success.

 

One day, I asked him which bread was cheaper, the whole wheat, or the rye bread. Before he provided a response, he emphasized the importance of not using the word ‘cheap’ or ‘cheaper’ when it came to price comparisons in the grocery business. According to Jim, using ‘cheap’ would convey inferiority, which was something, you tried to avoid – especially in a small grocery. If you wanted to compare prices, one should use less expensive or more expensive or least expensive. Using that five-letter word in a grocery context especially when Jim was around was strictly “verboten.”

Indeed, even though I learned a valuable lesson that day while in the grocery business, I'm still not inhibited to use it in some situations. If I find something in a toy store, electronics retailer or hardware store that is not well built well and will not last regardless of how much money is thrown towards consumers by marketing departments, I may use this 5 letter word, context is everything.

Fresh Produce in Naschmarkt

However, that one day I was corrected by Jim stayed with me not only while I worked in the health food business but still resonates with me today. Over 30 years later, when I hear someone use the word 'cheap' or 'cheaper,' I slightly cringe although it's not necessarily my place to correct them or suggest an alternative unless they may be receptive to such a suggestion.

 

Anyway, it's been a blessing and a curse. If I don't know the person well and they use the word 'cheap,' I have to understand the context. Are they conveying it's a good deal at a very low price and it might be a valued purchase or stay away as the item is not manufactured well. When people are not nuanced when using 'cheap' it can be irritating but of course expected.

 

I guess sometimes ignorance is bliss.

Berlin Kiosk Blues On A Holiday​

I'm in Berlin and it's late Monday morning and I decided to rent a bicycle for 24 hours as it's my second full day in Germany's capital. I learn by doing, which means to get around this spacious city with many public squares, a bike was the right play. I'm hungry and wanted to stop at a grocery store looking for some water, cheese, bread, and some fruit. You see, I arrived late on Saturday in Berlin and wasn't able to buy any food staples that day to get me through until Monday. Seeing how all grocery stores are closed on Sunday in most of Germany, I need to stock up before my touring begins.


Leveraging technology, I see several grocery stores within a few kilometers of my hotel. That's the good news, the bad news, I quickly learned it's was a holiday in Berlin on Monday which means all grocery stores were closed. Information is critical, if I had known this, I probably would have made a gallant attempt on Saturday to purchase some staples before the food stores closed for two consecutive days.


Ok, all food stores were closed on Monday but realized there had to be a kiosk or small neighborhood store that sold at least refreshments that day. After about 30 minutes of perusing several unfamiliar neighborhoods, I found a kiosk with the door open. The middle-aged man working the kiosk looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but working the kiosk -- especially on a holiday when his family and friends may have been enjoying the fine weather that day.

The kiosk had no food but gum, sweats, beer, and water so to make the best of the situation, I started to survey his beer selection. I said in German, " Wie viel für dieses dunkle Bier?" and he replied "ein und dreisig Euro". What about "Für ein Weißbier?" He deadpanned, "ein und vierzig Euro." (€1.30 and €1.40). Realizing he didn't take credit, I dug into my pocket and determined my limit was 6 Euros so being price conscious was key. I asked him why there were no prices above or below the beer, water, and soda. He said, "Because I know all the prices." Not knowing when to quit, I said, "I know, but why not empower the customer to know by viewing the actual prices?"


He persisted, "If they want to know, they can just ask me, I'm the owner so I know." He saw that puzzled look on my face and said, "If I mark everything, there may be a change in my costs so why bother?" I said quickly, "To allow the customer to make an informed decision on their own, some customers like to compare prices to determine the best value or have limited funds and want to determine what they can and cannot afford."


In retrospect, at this point, I was a fool to think he understood what I was attempting to communicate. I didn't think changing the prices once or twice a year wasn't much work. But again, what do I know? In retrospect, it's his store and he can do what he prefers.


After purchasing 2 German beers and a bottle of water for 5 Euros, I then said exasperatingly, "I can't believe how difficult it is to find a place open on a holiday. I've been everywhere without success." He just looked at me as he reached for his ethnic music. That meant, shut up, and leave my store as this conversation is over. He was done with me. As I gathered my supplies and hopped back on my bike back to the hotel, my only thought was that he doesn't major in empathy. In other words, it's not his problem.

 

A Nostalgic look back at getting lost after leaving a Hofbrauhaus in Munich

During the first six weeks of my year-long European travel tour in '82, I spent most of my time in West Germany. And because Berlin was then a divided city between democracy and communism, I opted for Munich as my convenient hub in Central Europe for coming and going. With an excellent transportation system and helpful weather, I'd come here often for a few days while determining where I'd go next.


Because of my low budget of $10 per day in Munich, lodging possibilities were limited. My options were a Youth Hostel (Jugenherberge) or Camping (ein Campingplatz). The youth hostel was closer to the town center and housed about a hundred guests sleeping in a large room. That's the good news; with no curfew, the bad news is being woken up at 2 or 3 a.m. by fellow drunk travelers. Experience can be the best teacher, especially if you're the type of individual who wants at least 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

 

A continental breakfast was served at the youth hostel, typically consisting of a hard roll (sometimes called a rundstuck or feierabend brotchen) which would sometimes fit perfectly in my right hand. Drinks were either coffee or tea and if fortunate, to break your fast, might include a banana or slice of cheese. Opportunists would sometimes take several extra rolls and dress them up later in the afternoon with cheese or grape marmalade from the local market. Coffee, tea, and rolls were provided so this youth hostel could advertise a free breakfast with the stay. It was simply a cost-effective approach to improve its marketing.


While in Munich, I averaged about ten miles of walking each day, so I had the opportunity to search for other options besides crowded youth hostels. While here, other afternoons would be spent looking for substantial and cheap food, especially at food markets. I absorbed and learned about Munich culture. After several exciting and challenging days at the youth hostel, I realized I had a tent, mattress pad, sleeping bag, Sternal stove, and mess kit. I was not obligated to stay there, so I researched and found the Campingplatz München Thalkirchen – (Thalkirchen Campground Munich), only a five-minute walk to the nearest public transportation.


As I mentioned earlier, the Munich transportation system was a good and efficient system for getting around the city and outlying areas. The S-Bahn was above and below ground and covered the greater area of Munich as a commuter train line. The U-Bahn was mainly below ground, owned by the city of Munich, and basically served this city. Munich also had busses and street cars, but I rarely used these because I'd typically walk to observe and experience street life when I strolled around. If my legs needed an occasional rest, I'd purchase a day pass and take the subway to random stops -- who knew what neighborhood I could then explore. Because this Bavarian capital was relatively safe, I never worried about ending up in a rough area. Some communities were a little more foreign than others, but overall, it was a beautiful city to visit and explore.

I was amazed that I found a camping place only four miles (about six kilometers) from Marienplatz (Mary's Square, the most popular square in Munich), along the Isar River. Never in America could I find a safe and inexpensive camping place so close to the central business district. I used Munich as a transportation hub, so if staying here for more than several days, I'd default to this camping site because of its safety and convenience.


One early July evening, while camping, I took the streetcar to the Hofbrauhaus (direct translation is Court Brewery, which served strong beer and food) near the Marienplatz to have an authentic German beer. I kept that singular because it's common for a liter of beer to suffice. So I connected with other young tourists who had the same idea, so we settled in the brew house, and each ordered a liter of beer. I frowned about one hour later, seeing my empty beer mug. I was hungry, as I had not eaten since breakfast. Anyway, the waiter came by and asked me if I wanted another as the others were still nursing their initial beer, with only half of it drunk. The waiter teased me as I contemplated another and felt no pain. To prompt me, he said if I could finish another liter within an hour, my beer would be comped. Sometimes, in youth, you accept silly challenges without knowing the full effects of such actions.

 

As a German-American originally from Wisconsin, a state that knows how to brew beer, I would not be defeated (despite how many times I may fail as a result!). About 20 minutes to go on my challenge, I had to relieve myself at the nearest WC (bathroom), so I returned to crunch time and was shocked that I still had half a liter to go. I reached into my wallet to pay him several Deutsch Marks (German currency) as I figured I couldn't drink any more beer. As my fellow travelers egged me on, and being so close to victory, I chugged the rest of the beer in my stein to victory. After smiling and being congratulated, I felt an instant dizziness and disorientation as I attempted to stand up. I had mixed emotions; the embarrassment of not handling my beer overrode my feeling of this accomplishment. At this point, I quickly moved away from the Hofbrauhaus because I was very drunk and especially awkward at not handling my beer. As I stumbled or struggled to walk straight, people quickly gave me space and got out of the way. At this point, I decided to call it a night and walked back to my tent and sleeping arrangement. The only problem was, where was it?


Perhaps Vertigo had also set in as I headed east from Marienplatz, looking for a tram stop. Having purchased a transportation pass for the day, I jumped on the first tram and tried to pay attention to the various stops to gain perspective, but that didn't make a difference. I knew I was on the brown line but wasn't sure of the direction it was traveling. After a handful of stations, I noticed we arrived at the Ostbahnhof and immediately knew I was traveling east and not south, so I immediately disembarked and reversed course. Once I was close to my original destination, I exited the tram to get better oriented. I started to ask residents about this camping place, and no one could help. It didn't help that I couldn't remember the name -- I blamed the strong German beer on my forgetfulness. Most residents didn't know about this camping site because they'd never had the need to use it. It would have helped if I saved the receipt for my three-night stay. It just seemed my mistakes were beginning to pile up.

I then realized that I had earlier brought a city map to the Hofbrauhaus but could not find it. I must have misplaced it -- another error on my part.


Being in the town center, I only thought I needed to head south, so I followed the Isar River as it flowed in that direction. Following the Isar River, I walked for nearly 90 minutes, occasionally asking strangers on the street if they could ensure I was navigating to the south. Most ignored me because I was drunk. I finally decided to rest on a park bench late evening and noticed the Thalkirchen Tierpark (Zoo) sign nearby. After much physical foot traffic, I felt more awake and alert and realized the camping site was about a 10 - 15 minute walk from the Zoo. After another 25 minutes of walking, I was dead tired and just wanted to sleep, but still no camping site. And getting warmer to my sleeping arrangement, I started asking people on the street if anyone might know. After asking a few people, a young lady knew of it and offered to walk me the rest of the way. The only remaining obstacle was to cross the Isar in a sober manner. I was relieved and appreciative of her kind words and wanted to buy her a beer but wasn't in a reasonable frame of mind, so I merely said, "Vielen Dank, Vielen Dank" (thank you very much) as she walked away.

Who needs a Dishwasher when you have Eight of them?

My mom had a three-foot measuring stick, and if you exceeded that length, you qualified for frequent dishwashing. Essentially, if you could reach the bottom of the sink, even with one finger, you were drafted into dishwashing regardless of your want. It reminded me of an amusement park ride, but in this scenario, it wasn't going to be an enjoyable ride. Regarding my height, I was tall for my age, so technically, I was put to work sooner than those less in stature.


I was number four in our family of eight to help clean the kitchen after meals. It’s probably not hard to imagine an adult doing dishes manually for ten people after a big meal but at six or seven years of age?

 

A few years later, a fifth sibling qualified to do dishes. At that point, with so many helpers in the kitchen, I believe my dad and older sister devised a weekly point system, one point for clearing, washing, and drying. The goal of this new point system was to simplify things with kitchen chores which wasn't always the case. Anyway, as in any new system, adjustments were made when necessary.

 

The clearing of dishes was fairly straightforward but also included sweeping the floor. That meant moving many chairs around to ensure all crumbs and excess food were correctly captured with a broom and dustpan. I enjoyed getting my hands wet while washing dishes, but your flow could be disrupted by a "lollygagging" clearer who you thought had ADHD where they weren’t always on task. Some siblings liked drying as they could wield their power of quality control and send anything back to the washer that didn't meet their standards. I rarely took offense to washing a dish a second time as long as I wasn’t splashed in the process. Just to be clear, there was never a situation when the kitchen was not completely cleaned by bedtime.


During school days, dinner was the only meal where the point system was applied, and three meals were on Saturday and Sunday. During summer vacation, there were three meals each day, times seven days, which meant a total point value was sixty-three. This meant that during the warm summer, breakfast and lunch often just involved bowls, silverware, glasses, and paper plates (to be discarded).


These types of meals provided an astute sibling to grab those easier points of the week. Summer dinners were the exact opposite as my mother and older siblings helped whip up a sit-down dinner that included meat, potatoes, and vegetables, along with whole milk. For evening meals, most of us were not brave enough to tackle such a chore, but I must add that the individual with the least number of points at that moment had to address the mess. It was a major mess to clean up and was also a major mess to one's playtime.


Some were better than others at finding easier meals to work

My youngest brother was adept at lobbying Mom on the types of meals she was planning for Saturday and Sunday. Those were two days where the most involved meals could take place. (You could only “call” one day ahead of time.) For example, if he quietly learned from her that we’re having a roast on Saturday night, he’d call Saturday breakfast and/or lunch on Friday morning. That meant he’d earn plenty of required points with a minimal amount of effort.


It took me a while to see his approach, but for whatever reason, even though I understood his strategy, I was unable to beat him at overall finding easier meals in which to work.

The week ended on Saturday, so there were many situations where I was short three or more points on the last day of the week. If lucky, I'd grab three for breakfast, but that wasn't always the case. Often, I'd get stuck doing lunch and/or dinner, and if not a grab meal (bread, cold cuts, chips, and milk), I was in a world of hurt. I vividly remember looking at the vacant kitchen after the other nine had gone on to more interesting things. There were typically four pots and pans to clean for sit-down dinners, several spatulas, cutting knives, plates, glasses, and silverware for ten, if not more. Also, there may have been additional dishes in the sink from snacks consumed in the afternoon. My daydreaming helped me pass the time away, but in today's world, I'd strap on my noise-canceling headphones and listen to podcasts to help me accomplish this mundane task.


Controversy about chores among kids?

It’s not surprising that controversy sometimes ensued about who called what meal. Did they sign the call sheet? Was it legible? Was it called within the correct time frame? Did they include which tasks they were interested in? There were times my dad was in the living room reading the paper as some of us bickered and debated the correct legal fight. After this occurred for about 5 - 10 minutes, he’d charge into the kitchen and try to sort things out. If it was quite involved, his executive decision was that those involved in the controversy had to partner together and clean up the dinner mess. There were a few times when I was not blameless and created a little chaos so my cleaning partner did more than their fair share. My approach was that if I had to drown in a sea of dirty dishes, any chaos to reduce my workload was my advantage.

 

We recycled 50 years ago (I was tithed on recycling)

One more thing about doing dishes many years ago was that we had to rinse and wash out the empty cans of corn, beans, and peas that were to be recycled. Imagine having an environmentally conscious dad who felt the need to recycle 50 years ago. Recycling was not the zeitgeist at the time, so the majority of families never would have gone through the bother, but one could also say no families would have gone through the bother of formalizing a dishwashing point system.

 

Call me a fool, but today, over 50 years later, I still enjoy doing dishes. I've perfected the system, so I feel it's the most efficient way of getting the dishes cleaned. We didn't have a window over our sink growing up, but I now glance out the window while I scrub and clean the dishes. Years ago, my mom would review the temperature of the dishwater and say it had to be hotter to kill all the germs. So today, when I manually wash dishes, I give homage to my mom as I attempt to wash them in very hot water. I must say that I'm not completely against a dishwasher if you have a dinner party or a special event and need to clean up the kitchen quickly, but if it's only a party of two eating at home, the manual method works well for me.


My kids can’t believe I didn’t have a dishwasher growing up with so many mouths to feed. First of all, our kitchen was about ninety square feet, so there was no place for a dishwasher. With so many kids around, you had to keep them busy to avoid fighting and bickering. Over the years, my dad was sometimes asked why he didn’t have a dishwasher, and he would always say, “What do you mean? I have eight of them.” I can’t imagine that while doing dishes as a 1st grader, I would still be going through the same process today. Is it because years ago, I had plenty of siblings who were not shy at providing quality control? Or was it the point system that instilled hard work in me? I still clearly remember having to clean up our eating area, which sometimes looked like it was destroyed by a tornado. I don't have an answer, but all I know is that today, my immediate family is grateful that I handled this task efficiently and effortlessly, even 50 years after the inception of our points system.

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