Eulogy for Marvin Spafford (12/10/2021)

Thank you for coming out today to help us honor the memory of our dad, Marvin John Spafford.

I want to start by quoting my dad’s favorite President, Bill Clinton (Long Pause). I’m just kidding. That’s not his favorite president at all. We didn’t agree on politics. I told him a couple years ago if he ever passed away before me, I was going to start with that. He laughed. His favorite president was Harry S Truman. I don’t know if this is because of his policies or the fact that he won a 12 pack of beer from the bet he placed with a friend. And it even felt better after he found out that Dewey didn’t actually win. Truman said, “There’s nothing new in the world, except history you do not know.” To this end our dad strived to read as much about history and historical figures as he could. One of those historical figures was Winston Churchill. He read all 5 books of his biography and pored over every word and speech. A quote from Churchill’s biography that my dad pointed out to me and resonated with him was, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak, it’s also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Another quote from Churchill which my dad enjoyed was, “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” My dad spent a lifetime of looking at results. No, he wasn’t a scientist. He was a farmer, father, husband, brother, son and friend.

Over the years, my dad kept many diaries or journals or calendars where he marked important facts. Yes facts. There were no pages filled with his feelings on a certain thing – but instead when it happened, how much it cost or how much it rained. Numbers remained important to my dad throughout his life. Passing along information about family – past and present – was also important. When his sister, our Aunt Juanita, got involved in genealogy and found out that the Spaffords had a castle in England – the Spofforth Castle – he was very intrigued. He remained intrigued even when he found out that it was mostly in ruins. He needed to know everything about each generation. There are 10. 10 generations, that is, from the first recorded Spafford to my dad’s father Joseph.

Connie & Marvin Spafford by the Chippewa River

After high school, my dad worked on the farm for his dad. He worked for a percentage of the profits. He did this for about 5 years until he was drafted. In those five years he saved money and bought 100 feet of lake frontage on Moens Lake. His dad thought he was crazy. It cost as much as a 40. He could swim anywhere for free, why did he need a private beach. Before joining the army in 1953, he loaned the Ford Garage $10,000. Shortly after returning from the army his father died. He and my uncle David took over the farm. When uncle David was drafted, he was left alone to run the farm. His older cousin Chet would come over once a week in an International utility truck that my brother Matt recently had restored – there’s a picture of it on the back of the program today. Chet came over weekly to counsel my dad and answer questions about farming. It was also during this time that my dad had doubts about whether he wanted to spend his life farming. He got through it, and soon Uncle David was back to help, but he still wasn’t sure. He started to take a correspondence course to be an accountant. That’s when he met Connie Croker from Eagle River. Connie’s father was also a potato farmer. Apparently, 60 years ago in these parts, if you threw a potato in any direction, you were bound to hit another potato farmer. My dad used his interest in accounting and did the math and asked Connie to marry him. She turned him down originally and my dad felt like he had dodged a bullet. A week later she asked if the offer was still available. It was. My mom and dad were married in 1960 and remained married until my mom’s passing a couple of years ago.   59.    They were together 59 years. By the way, the Ford Garage repaid him with interest. $13,500. They got a washing machine and a car and saved the rest for the bad years ahead in farming.

My mom helped on the farm seasonally. There are long hours and the kind of labor that most occupations can escape. It can be a hard life, but it can be rewarding. I asked my dad once if he ever regretted not becoming an accountant. He was quick to say he didn’t regret a thing. I asked him if he had wanted me to follow in his footsteps on the farm. He was even quicker to respond with a solid no. He wanted us to get a job where we weren’t worried about if it was going to rain enough, too much or freeze too early. A few years ago, I saw a documentary about farming. They pointed out that in farming you only get so many chances to get it right – most of the time 1 crop per year. They farmed from 1956 to 1991. They had 36 chances. The number is 36.

Many kids have heroes from old movies or comic books. One of my heroes was Spider Man. And what kid didn’t run a garden hose up his shirt and out his sleeve to mimic spraying a spider web. I also had heroes that others didn’t have. My dad built a sandbox for us, and I have fond memories of Matt, Justin and me playing in the sandbox for hours on end with our toy tractors and equipment. Being the oldest, I always played my dad. Matt played Uncle David and Justin played Daryl Cornell. Justin was pretty small, so I don’t really know if he knew he was playing Daryl Cornell. Our heroes were just a stone’s throw away out in the field, and we went through the motions and did the work in the sandbox. Those heroes weren’t wearing capes, just Dickie’s brand work pants and shirts. Three heroes in the field. The number is 3.

Marvin & Connie Spafford on Mississippi Houseboat Trip with Jason Spafford & Cynthia Berger, 1998

We had a cottage on Moen’s Lake – which Bruce Carlson, our funeral director, knows well, having owned it himself for almost 30 years. Standing at the back pier that drooped over the Gudegast Creek – a pier I watched my dad install with steel pipes and concrete, to inadvertently make Bruce’s life hell later while trying to remove it – by that creek, my dad told me that if we paddled down the Gudegast creek and into Moens Lake, to Second Lake, to Third Lake, to North Pelican Lakes, then Fourth Lake, into Fifth Lake, into Fish Lake, then down the Pelican River to the Wisconsin River, The Wisconsin River would take you to the Mississippi River and the Mississippi River could take you to New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico. I never forgot this. It all seemed so close and connected. Years later my wife Cynthia and I quit our jobs, bought a houseboat, and went down the Mississippi River. My mom and dad came with us for 5 days, starting in Prairie du Chien and ending in Burlington, IA. They loved it. My dad was thrilled to be traveling down the Mississippi River. The next summer he got his cousin Ed and wife Jessie to put their speed boat in the Mississippi. Ed never thought of doing such a thing. My dad proudly told me how much fun they had going through a couple locks – going to Burlington, IA for lunch and coming back the same day. Giving him the experience to make that trip on his own was only a fraction of the debt I owed him for showing me what was possible and how connected we are to everything. The numbers are 4 rivers, 7 lakes and 1 gulf.

There were also times when I annoyed my dad – you know, like any kid – just worse. You see, as I mentioned, I learned to work hard from watching my dad. But I was, probably am, the laziest Spafford on record. People in the outside world think I’m a hard worker and I just think, man you should see the rest of them go. I came home from college for Christmas break. My dad wanted me to help load a semi and I needed the money. When I got to the warehouse, I realized it was to be loaded with 50-pound bags and this was done by hand. There may have been a conveyor involved. All I know is that it was one bag after another going into that 53-foot trailer. I was 19 and my dad was probably 55. With half the truck loaded, I was dying. I tried to convince my dad that we should take a break. I told him I was worried about him, and his face was red and he was 55 and I was afraid he would have a heart attack. Suddenly, he stopped, but only briefly – just long enough to tell me his face was red because he’s working and that’s the kind of thing that might happen if you work. I gave up on my complaining and my face got red – more from embarrassment from not being able to keep up with a 55-year-old.     Oh, and …. 860 50-pound bags of potatoes on that 53’ trailer.

One summer in high school, my friend Len Frederickson and I had my dad’s boat and its large old motor at the afore mentioned cottage on the lake. My dad had come down with his truck to pull the boat back. Len and I took my car and got back to the house. We were eating lunch before my dad got back. My dad drove in with no boat behind the truck.  He came in and calmly got some carrots from the plate on the table. I asked him where the boat was. He said, the trailer came off the truck and rolled into the ditch. He asked if we could come and help get it. I calmly said, “sure” and got up from the table. Len and I got in my car, and we followed my dad in his truck. Len seemed in shock and was confused. He asked what just happened and if my dad was joking. Why was he not really upset? He said his dad would have been furious. I think it was a combination of who my dad was and also being tempered by farm life, where you’ve watched your potatoes floating in lakes of rainwater, hail stripping all the leaves off your plants, or you’ve raced to sort a rotten pocket in the warehouse that won’t stop spreading – a boat tipping over – on land – is not that bad.  We retrieved one 25 horsepower Evinrude weighing 115 pounds and the StarCraft boat. We lost 5 gallons of gas/oil mixed 50:1.

I have other memories as well. Doing donuts in the 1976 GMC four door pick-up with the entire family in the vehicle was a thrill – even with the high-pitched half laugh half scream of my mom wailing MARRRRVINNNNNNNNNN! I also remember the sound my dad’s seat belt made as he cut it out of the car, because it was in his way. We eventually got him to wear a seatbelt. I heard how he quit smoking in 1970 when he first heard cigarettes could cause cancer. He had been smoking since 1947 and stopped cold turkey. At a half a pack a day, that’s 83,950 cigarettes.

God and faith were very important to my dad, but he very seldom went to church – only if it was required of him. My mom was raised Catholic, and we went to church when she could wrangle us out the door. When my dad went to church, he never dipped his fingers in the holy water at the entrance. He said he didn’t know where people’s hands had been. Turns out, he was ahead of his time on that thinking. He also said that the Lord took the seventh day off and he was sure the Lord would understand him doing the same. I never knew until much later that my dad began saying a prayer at the age of 10 and said that same prayer every night for the rest of his life. Some will argue that that’s not enough work when it comes to salvation and such. I would say that the real work is being good, honest, kind and leading a life that inspires others to do the same. And that’s what he did. By the way, I know you need to know. That was 29,930 prayers. I also know that those keeping track noticed that he had more cigarettes than prayers. But these were powerful prayers and those were cheap sinful cigarettes.

Grandpa Marv with Hoyt, Iris & Lila – Thanksgiving 2021
One of Dad’s last Journal entries

Upon retiring, my dad got his realtor’s license and worked for a builder near Madison before my mom and dad moved back up north to Eagle River. He designed and began building his house – by himself – on his 70th birthday. This would be the house where they lived for the next 20 years. For the past forty plus years my dad was a member of the Shriners. He was very proud of raising money for the Shriner’s Children’s Hospital, where we’ll be sending a donation in his name. Finally, he worked with Matt as a freight broker before deciding he wanted to focus more time on mowing his lawn and woodworking projects for family and friends. This past Thanksgiving my dad sat in his chair at his house that is now Justin’s and was surrounded by family. After the meal he went to his chair and in his journal, he drew a diagram of the table and labeled where everyone was sitting – to better remember the meal. Come to think of it, maybe there were feelings mixed in with all those facts. You just had to read between the lines, like in life.

Regarding Churchill’s quote, I don’t know what my dad’s strategy was, but today we are looking at the results of a life lived well. Although myself, Matt, Justin and Nicolle are different people, I know we inherited a lot of my dad’s traits. It was very important to him, and my mom, that we be independent people. I know he was very proud of all of us. I know that because he made sure to take the time to tell us that. I know that he loved his grandchildren very much and that he was proud of Brianna, Lydia, Lila, Hoyt and Iris. I know that because he showed that to them whenever he saw them. Finally, I know that he loved our mom very much and will be happy to be with her again. The number is 2 – together. And there are no more numbers. We’ll move forward with the memories of those numbers and make our own numbers and we can only hope that we have the courage to stand up and speak and sit down and listen.

The Lost Tapes Part 1

In early 2001, when my friend and business partner Dave and I were in the process of growing a DVD production business (one of the first outside of L.A. and N.Y.), there could be a lot of down time in between customer calls. While other entrepreneurs might be out trying to raise capital or working on grand marketing plans, Dave and I were fairly content to just wait for the phone to ring and emails to come in with work. Because of the excess time, I started calling my friend Jim and having long conversations (he was at home with his two young daughters and working part time as an art teacher), and sometimes one of us would be in character. I decided to tape my calls with Jim and others and not tell them about it – for twenty years. I discovered over 5 hours of recordings when we moved in 2019. I played the tapes for the first time in 2021 and decided to digitize them. I put them up here for friends to listen to – if you’ve really got absolutely nothing else going on in your life. Note how, occasionally, I’ll get a phone call from a customer and I’ll have to put someone on hold and talk seriously about DVDs for a moment. It seems like I’m usually in a hurry to get them off the phone and back to my little stories. FYI: There was a time after this that I had no time for silly phone calls and Dave and I sold the company in 2007 to the highest bidder of three companies.

What’s New
The German Language Student
Safety Jingle Sales
Winking Into the Phone
Handsfree Phone and Top Secret Work
What Do Toddlers Eat
Painting with Jason
Musical Interlude
Fountain Drink of Youth
Steve and Dave

A Letter to John Lithgow’s Publicist

Dear Kara,

Let me start by saying that I realize this email/inquiry may be outside the scope of what you do, but please humor me.

For the past 30 plus years I have been plagued by your client, Mr. Lithgow. You see, for the past 30 years people have been approaching me and telling me I “Look like somebody” or “Do you know who you look like?” Inevitably, that person has been John Lithgow – except one nice airline gate person at LAX who guessed the look as Ed Harris. You can imagine how that warmed my heart. But then back to the John Lithgow, John Lithgow, John Lithgow. I’m almost certain no one has asked him if he knows that he looks like Jason Spafford.

I’ve been a filmmaker, writer, river boat captain, and entrepreneur and over the past thirty years I’ve traversed this country of ours, and at every corner I’ve been asked if I know who I look like. In my mid-twenties with hair down to my shoulders having a beer in a heavy metal bar in New York, I was approached by an attractive young woman. The only reason for her interest was that I looked like the dad from Harry and the Hendersons – John Lithgow. Damn you Lithgow.

At a coffee shop in Santa Monica, many years later, sporting closely cropped hair – a necessity for a man of a certain age and “high forehead” – a barista (and actor) was so excited for me and my prospects. She suggested that I use the likeness to my advantage and have fun with it. Her suggestion involved me going to a restaurant and asking for a seat in the back and not to be bothered. She thought me asking “not to be bothered” would seal the deal. And then what? I don’t know. I didn’t have the heart to ask her the rest of the plan.

I’ve been in a top level meeting with the leadership of BNSF Railway at a retreat in Utah, discussing a very large transportation deal when people at the director level of that organization could no longer control their need to ask me if I knew who I looked like.

Most recently, outside of Minneapolis, a twenty year old behind the counter of a Subway (yes, I love those sandwiches – just don’t tell my wife I was there) popped the question I’ve been surprised by for 30 years. “Do you know who you look like?” I said yes cautiously. He seemed too young for 3rd Rock from the Sun, definitely not Garp, and probably not a follower of The Crown.  Could this young man have come to Lithgow via the Manatee? Turns out, he was indeed comparing my face to that of Mr. Lithgow’s (fortunately not my fanity). I had to take stock and wonder how long this John Lithgow is continuing to stay relevant and will these comments never end, even though I’ve easily found the humor in fielding these continued questions of my knowledge of who I look like.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed the work of John Lithgow over the years. I’ve seen many of his film performances – except that one where he plays the good him and the bad him, although I’m guessing those roles may have been fun. I even memorized the Manatee song when my children were younger (see above). I’m happy for any person’s continued successes. I just didn’t realize Mr. Lithgow’s successes would continue for so long.

If you’ve read this far, you’re very kind and possibly getting a bit behind on more important work, so I’ll wrap this up. I’m not the kind of person who seeks out famous people or collects autographs. I don’t have anything to sell. I’m sure fame can bring about an array of unwanted attention or focus. And I’m guessing Mr. Lithgow has worked hard to focus on the importance of his work and family. I too have worked hard to stay focused on my wife of 27 years, three great children and a remarkably diverse career. I feel incredibly lucky to also have my sanity intact after thirty plus years of a slow drip, drip, drip of unknown people asking me if I know who I look like or telling me that I look like somebody.

I’m hoping to meet with your client at some time in the future, once it is safe for people to interact again, and take a photo together. If Mr. Lithgow is ever in Minneapolis, that’s where I reside. But I can also be available in L.A. or East Coast. For the record, I don’t think I look like John Lithgow so I have not enclosed a photo. If you have additional time and would like to investigate, you can probably find a picture by searching via Google, “Jason Spafford Minneapolis”. I’ll be the good looking Jason Spafford with a high forehead. And if you are really lucky, Ed Harris’ picture may pop up.

2019 Spafford / Berger Christmas Letter

Friends and Family,  

We all go through sadness or loss or heartbreak and a slew of other assorted feelings of the same genre throughout the year. Wait. Is that the beginning of my Christmas letter? Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!

The aforementioned feelings and remembrances are not what we want to put on parade in the annual Christmas letter. Christmas letters are made for bragging about above average children who eventually will become average, pets that people outside your family may not really like (unfortunately, that may also go for the above average kids) and trips that studies show are much more exciting to look forward to than actually take.

This year, my mom, I’ll refer to her as Connie Spafford, passed away in October. I’m not a huge fan of the term “passed away”. It always seemed like an obvious description of what most quarterbacks do in third down situations.  “Passed away” as it stands,is more final – more like the end of the fourth quarter and no Hail Mary can help. Season ending. Thus, ends the football analogy portion of my Christmas letter.

I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to write a “funny” Christmas letter. But I thought my mom would want me to. My mom lived to be 81 years old and looked like she was 65 (a true miracle, based on her diet of hamburgers and pasta) and had a great life – except for the times I was annoying her with my jokes and general non growing-upness.

She had Alzheimer’s but would point out to me that there are many people far worse off than her. I mean, she said that when she was alive, because it doesn’t really get any worse than not being alive.  Unless you get buried in that joke Christmas sweater by mistake.

I want to remind us all that beyond our amazing trips, perfectly posed selfies, awesome concerts, scrumptious foods and endorphin craving brains, we are all going through real life stuff.  We need to continue to celebrate life and family and all the things we love (Unless it involves pictures of food. Knock that off, ok). Let’s also take time to think about the real stuff and that our friends, family and neighbors will now and again need a helping hand or friend to talk to – because life is like that. There’s always somebody that will need a friend or loved one to lean on.

As a family, we had many happier moments in 2019. We moved into a new house in Lauderdale, MN (right between Minneapolis and St.Paul). The kids can now ride the bus to school. Hoyt (12) is closer to soccer and Iris (9) is closer to swimming. Lila (17) is a Junior and really enjoying her graphic design and art classes. They all seem above average to me but see paragraph 3 above for clarity on that.

Cynthia was in an art show this fall and has been on a roll with making new art. I’m sure she’ll continue with this work in 2020. She’ll be making prints of work to sell in the new year (but as an artist she reserves the right to refuse to sell you anything). She is also working on her master’s degree – something she has wanted to do for more than a few years.

I took a great trip to the Boundary Waters this year with old friends Dave, Jim, Steve and Jon. The highlight was when Grumpy Steve told Bossy Jim to “Shut up”. When Bossy Jim started to say something else, Grumpy Steve said, “That’s not what that means.” I laughed longer and harder than the others.

Cynthia wanted to add a picture because people like the pictures. But this train is leaving the station. Imagine us from last year’s picture and pretend everyone looks a little older. Next year’s image will be a big surprise for you!

Happy Holidays to You from Our Family. 

Eulogy for Connie Spafford (10/19/2019)

Image of Connie Spafford 1956 Graduation picture and current picture from Eulogy in Rhinelander, WI

My sister Nikki and I took our mom in for a memory evaluation 10 years ago. The staff person asked a series of questions to get a baseline of her memory. One question asked how many children she had. She answered four. The nice woman said that Nicole and Jason are here, can you tell me where your other two children are right now. My mom’s deadpan response was, “I don’t know. Someplace minding their own business.” I laughed so hard that I began to cry. I pulled it together, as it seemed like the medical professional was starting to turn her scrutiny to me and my mental abilities.

My mom never went back for a follow up, even though it was evident that something beyond simple memory loss was occurring.  She made my dad promise that there would be no more visits for anything memory related. 

Things slowly progressed over the last ten years, but my mom remained in her home almost to the end. She was a con artist, a charlatan, and a magician when it came to all things conversational. For most of her time battling the disease we were constantly told by friends and relatives, “Oh, I just talked to your mom and she seems fine.” She had a particular maneuver that I especially enjoyed. She had perfected the long-standing Croker mumble. My grandfather was king of the mumble. It was thought that he had elevated it to an art form. My mom had taken it to the next level and used it to end bothersome conversations and get back to her kitchen.  Her father would have been proud.

My mom was a quiet person. She did not need nor want to be the center of attention. And on those occasions, when she released her subtle, but focused wit, it always seemed like it was more to amuse herself than her intended audience.  To us, her sense of humor was the gold standard to which we aspired. And in moments of profound sadness, like today, it is one of the greatest gifts that she bestowed upon us.

Nikki talked about how my dad first met our mom. I will add that after dating for only a few months, my dad once again mustered up courage. This time to ask her to marry him. She declined. She said she was thinking of moving to Florida. Marvin, the thirty-year-old bachelor, drove home that night thinking he had just dodged a bullet and wondering why he ever asked that question. A few weeks later my mom’s plans apparently changed. She asked my dad if his offer was still on the table. He said that it was. She had him right where she wanted him. Putty in her hands. They were married in 1960 and remained so for 59 years.

My mom was strong, independent, quiet and very funny. She was the backbone of our family. My dad may have worked long hours on the farm, but she would also do that seasonally AND take care of the house AND four kids. Who wouldn’t want to be riding on a tractor in the solitude of your own land rather than breaking up fights between four kids?

I have a very vivid memory of being about 7 years old – probably in 1971. It was a miserable winter day, maybe 10 below zero, and my mom was taking all four kids – me, Matt 5, Justin 3, and Nikki 1 – to the doctor. We came out of the house bundled up. Justin was teetering with his new walking ability and mom held his hand. She also held Nikki. Matt was in front and already down the stairs and I was next to mom.  In the next second mom slipped on the ice and it played out in slow motion to me. She let go of Justin’s hand and grabbed Nikki with both hands. Her feet came up from beneath her and she fell on her back hard. The kind of hard that knocks the wind out of you. When she caught her breath, she began to cry. She slowly sat up holding an unphased and safe Nikki and my mom continued to cry. As a child seeing a parent cry, I didn’t know what to do. Matt had walked back to where we were, and Justin slid down the stairs one step at a time. Matt and I just stood next to mom. Not knowing what else to do, I put my hand on my mom’s hand and said, “Your O.K. It’s O.K. I love you, mom.” I held my hand on hers until she stopped crying and now appeared to be contemplating getting up.

I let go of her hand and walked down the steps. I had faith that she would be ok. She lingered there on the steps. When I turned around my mom was gone from her sitting position. Somehow, with the uncanny strength of a mom with a baby in hand, she popped herself up from the ice and was on to the next adventure.

For a family that didn’t really take big vacations or small vacations or……. vacations, our adventures many times came closer to home. One such adventure was the discovery of Monty Python on PBS by my mom and me. We soon became addicted. Justin was four years younger, but also quickly fell into the Monty Python camp. Humor and writing became a big part of my life and my mom encouraged me. She always said that if you could spell, you could do anything in the world.  Not exactly true. She would write an annual letter to her friend Judy in Florida and take a week to write it – dictionary in hand – rewriting and honing her humorous stories for her friend. When I was old enough, I became her dictionary, her personal spell checker. I often wondered if she encouraged me to be a good speller so that she wouldn’t have to dig through a dictionary.

Over the years I learned many things from my mom. In an effort to keep you from falling asleep while listening to me, I’d like to give you five small stories to illustrate five important lessons my mom taught me.

I liked making the jokes and my mom was sometimes more amenable to them than my dad. One day I was helping my dad at our cottage doing a roof repair. We were working most of the morning and I may have been utilizing a few too many characters or goofy voices. When we came off the roof for lunch, my mom pulled me aside and gave me some great advice. She said that she was very confident that if I didn’t stop goofing around up there, “Your father is going to throw you off the roof.” I heeded her advice.  Lesson 1: Learn how to read a situation.

When I was eighteen and just out of high school, I was woken up one weekday morning by my mom yelling sage advice up the stairs to me. “Jason, wake up and get your life together!” I was haunted by this and had to get up and ask my mom what she meant.  I had a job and would be going to college in the fall. She said she just thought it was a good way to get my attention. It did. Lesson 2: Make a statement.

As Nikki stated, she would also let you know when a line had been crossed. I found out that one such line involved my muddy shoes on her freshly mopped kitchen floor. I got halfway across the floor before my thirteen-year-old brain realized that I was leaving big clumps of mud on the floor. She appeared out of nowhere. Her eyes narrowed. My eyes widened and I knew no simple sorry would get me out of this one, especially since it registered in my little brain that I had done the same thing the day before. It’s the two strikes and you’re out policy. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her reach for her broom to start sweeping up the mud. At least that’s what I thought. She began to follow me with the broom. I walked fast, then she ran. Then she was chasing me – with a broom. There was no way she could catch me – or could she. I didn’t know, so I needed to keep running. I was 13 and she was 39. She was really 39 that year – not like all the other years, when she was also 39. But she kept running. I had never seen her run this far. I never realized how important that floor was before this. My mom chased me down the road to a grove of trees where I climbed a pine and she stood below with her broom. My mother had treed me. After a while, she did a Croker mumble and went back to the house. Two hours later I came in the house with no shoes, assuming this incident had passed. The second I walked in the door I saw my mom standing there like some kind of Ninja, broom in hand, and before I could get out the door she swatted me on my backside three times and I swear I only saw her swing once. Lesson 3a and 3b: Persevere and take dirty shoes off.

My best memory of my mom’s design style was that she liked to do things differently. We had a mauve front door on our farmhouse. And we had the most cutting-edge bathroom wallpaper. My mom had chosen a pattern made up of naked Greek women sculptures. As a fourteen-year-old boy, it was electrifying AND, at the same time, daunting to be in a bathroom surrounded by so many naked statue women. Lesson 4: Be a trendsetter.

At fifteen, I had a date but no wheels. I needed my mom and dad to drive me to town that evening. My mom pried information out of me about the date. I showed signs of embarrassment as she quizzed me.  They dropped me off a block from the theater per my request. Then my mom instructed my dad to drive around the block several times – like sharks circling, with my embarrassment being the blood in the water. The third time around my date approached and my mom rolled down the window as they passed and waved frantically at me with a huge smile. The date asked if I knew that woman. I said that’s my mom. She said, she seems like fun. I said, “Sure.”  Lesson 5: Get over yourself.

Nikki and I have only told our stories today, and Justin and Matt have many similar stories. One day at our cottage, Matt, probably age 15, put on a life jacket and decided to swim out to a peninsula. My mom always sat on the shore watching over us. That day our Aunt Juanita was with her. Matt waved to mom from out in the lake. She thought he was signaling for help and her and Aunt Juanita got in a rowboat and went out to “save” Matt. As they got close, he tried to explain he was fine. They still tried to get him into the boat. Their oars became unknowing weapons as they dangerously swung them around, barely missing Matt’s bobbing head. He finally talked them into sparing his life and rowing away from him.

Justin took it upon himself to become a stand-up comedian. When he first told mom that he was going to be a stand-up comedian, mom said, “That’s not funny.” She was his best audience and he knew something was funny if he could get mom to laugh.

Mom’s other gift was her love of cooking and baking. She would often spend her nights marginally involved with whatever show was on the television. If it were up to her, the show would most likely be a Poirot murder mystery on PBS. But her main attention would be affixed on the well-worn recipe books sprawled out on the coffee table in front of her.  She was always searching for a yet undiscovered recipe gem, or the right recipe candidate that just needed her mad scientist skills to take it to the next level. This passion for wanting to create the best Lemon bar or pot of chili may have missed me, Nikki and Justin, but it did not miss Matt, who has carried in his wallet a handwritten recipe for white chili that my mother scrawled from memory for him over thirty years ago . 

I also want to mention how welcoming mom was to people coming into the family. When Cynthia and I were married 25 years ago, Cynthia instantly became like a second daughter – another person to share long discussions about books, gardening, cooking and design.

Twelve days ago, and some 48 years after I held my mom’s hand on the steps of the farmhouse, I was with my siblings and dad in the hospital and holding her hand again. I didn’t realize until thinking about it later, that I said the same thing. “You’re ok. Its ok. I love you.” That was the last thing I said to her. I left that day and she lingered for a while and was then gone from her place there on the bed. She sprang up and on to a new adventure.

Thank you all for joining my siblings, my dad and me here to tell some stories and celebrate my mom’s life. She is someone who always inspired and encouraged us and those around her with a smile, clever quip or humorous quiet aside. Through her gestures we were encouraged to always look on the bright side of life. We will always remember her and thank her for that.

There are packets of wildflower seeds in a basket on the table. Please take one or more and plant a garden for Connie. Join us down the street at ArtStart gallery for a small luncheon. We’ll be serving mom’s favorite food and drink. Hamburgers and Cokes. Once again, thank you all for coming today.

Cue Music: Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

2020 Spafford – Berger Christmas Letter

This past year of 2020 sure has been uneventful and humdrum for the Spafford – Berger family, but we thought it was a good year to get to know each other much better. In March, we decided to start spending a lot more time together. First, we loaded up on toilet paper (cheaper than tissues for watching family movies and crying) then we started home schooling the kids. Guess whose introverted kids didn’t miss school? You got it. Our introverted kids – well, except the youngest, who rather enjoys the chat.

We also got a puppy named Trixie. Iris has wanted a dog for a very long time. The biggest lover of dogs in our family also happens to be allergic to them. Trixie is a Poodle – Bishon mix and hypoallergenic. Toffee the cat is 7 years old and has been more than patient.

This past summer we stayed close to home – mostly in our backyard. This particular year we lived real hard at this residence. Over the past year, we lived four years of living in this house. If the walls of this house could talk, they would probably ask, “when will you be leaving?”

This year we decided to wear masks to protect our family from germs, thus ensuring that we could spend more quality time together. It seemed like a lot of other people chose to do that. Coincidence? I know, crazy. It made some people so mad. In their defense, how can you turn that frown upside down if you can’t see it.

To stay extra close to the family, Cynthia taught school from home. The bonus? No bothersome questions about bathroom passes.

I noticed that the guys picking up the recycling are looking more fit from all the extra heavy lifting – with more empty whiskey, wine and beer bottles in our recycling. It looks like this staying close to home is helping everyone. Horray!

Lila, 18, will be graduating in 2021. She’s been accepted at Montana State University and Kansas City Art Institute thus far. Cynthia had to work, but me and the kids traveled to Bozeman, MT in late August to check out MSU. We also swung through Yellowstone National Park, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Crazy Horse. These are all fine places and I recommend you visit them or find something on the travel channel about them.

Hoyt, 13, is missing soccer because of our new family-centric lifestyle. He’s excited to get back to it when we are done being so “close knit”. His seventh-grade classroom is only 6 feet from his bed. So that’s handy. Being at home all day gives him more time to point out to Lila that he is now taller than her.

Iris, 10, changed her focus over the summer from swimming to skateboarding. She’s becoming rad and sick. I don’t know if it’s in that order. Sick may come before rad. I only understand sick and tired. She is also taking the lead in the family to train the afore mentioned dog. In reality, she’s the only one that Trixie listens to.

Below is a picture of the kids on Lila’s 18th birthday. Toffee the cat could not be convinced to join the picture.

We wish you and your family the Happiest of Holidays and look forward to a more eventful 2021.

2018 Spafford – Berger Christmas Letter

Spafford – Berger Family photo with all eyes open (minimal sun squinting)

Friends & Family,

Hold onto the envelope this letter came in (if you received via USPS) because it has a new address for us. Just go ahead and put that envelope in a safe place until you get a chance to enter the address into some digital format or your favorite old timey address book. Maybe put it in your favorite kitchen drawer where similar things go to transition from useful to seldom looked at. You know, where the old phone cord lovingly cuddles with the dead batteries you can’t get rid of and the stress ball you are always happy to stumble upon in a time of need. But I digress. Or do I? What does the holiday season have to do with a junk drawer?

If The Savior Jesus Christ had a junk drawer (and I’m guessing he did, being a man of the people and all), I’m sure his would have contained frankincense and myrrh. Joseph and Mary probably would have used the gold themselves – or started a savings account for the baby Jesus. But frankincense and myrrh? Are you kidding me? Perfect junk drawer stuff. Just as a refresher, frankincense is an incense that was a symbol of deity and myrrh (an embalming oil) was a symbol of death. Incense? Embalming oil? Hard to use it every day, but good to have around.  If you ask me, only one wise man showed up that night – packing gold.

This year we carefully packed up our junk drawers and headed East to the first ring suburb of Roseville, MN. We were sad to leave our NE Minneapolis neighborhood where we’ve spent the last 24 years (5 years in the first house and 19 years in the second one). We arrived before it was hip and trendy. Now we’ll try to make Roseville cool (even though I’m not sure it was us who transformed NE Minneapolis).

The move was prompted by the fact that all three kids go to school in Roseville. We realized that we have another 10 years of driving back and forth with no bus options, and we can’t convince Iris to drop out of school.

Speaking of three wise people, the kids are doing great. Lila just turned 16 and is looking forward to getting her driver’s license soon– as soon as we drive around with her for 60 hours. Hoyt (11) plays soccer six days a week and twice on Sunday. Iris (8) is taking swimming classes and as of late enjoys Tuesday evenings at the local library reading to dogs.

Our junk drawers are now in storage, so we’ll spend the rest of 2019 filling new drawers with incense, embalming oil, batteries and new addresses.

We hope your 2019 is equally productive and your drawers overflow with memories from the past and reminders for the future – and none of them are junk.

I raise a cocktail named Three Wise Men -containing Johnnie Walker, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam (technically not a cocktail because it’s all whiskey, but indeed, a real drink) – and toast you and yours this holiday season.

Happy Holidays from the Spafford – Berger Family!

Rye and Fire

Get your guns
And carry them to the creek
A Colt 45 long and sleek
Crops come in
Rye comes out
Herald and shout
The fire chief stood in the yard
Said it looked like arson
I said it looked like love
Not every day in this big ol’ life
That someone tries to burn you

Rye and fire, rye and fire
She’s spare and tranquil
Lettin’ her heart get its fill

Crops got in
Rye came out
I left her for the miller’s daughter
She grabbed matches and fodder
And proved her love
Was stronger than hanging ropes
And jail bar hopes
Gotta forgive that crazy woman
Who loves me just like fire
She warms my heart
With her brazen attempts to put
me out
Put me on a pyre

Rye and fire, rye and fire
She’s Odessa in the night
Her love will put up a fight

Crops come in
Rye came out
The miller’s daughter went off
With the sheriff’s son
Talk of burning all done
I stay in her arms
Where I can watch her hands
And how they move

Rye and fire, rye and fire
By my side til this world gets dire
Her love won’t get tired

MUSIC AND VOCALS by Anna Schulze

from Wanna Be a Rock-Star, Can’t Play a Gui-Tar


Lay down in a snow colored field
Soft like goose grown
Where death is covered by the winter
Your heart from the suspect season
Let your cheek feel the frozen earth
Sprinkle concentric flakes bitter and numb
Cold to warm fresh flesh
Young like the night stars above
Naked and cold half-moon spilling milk light
Over your calico hat
Cities and towns and people and animals gone
Gone from our nuclear winter night scene
I’ll be the atom and you the evening

Calming and leveling and warming
Take my hand and draw me close
A planet to your sunshine
Fire lighting window of the distant
Farm house spying on the night
Peeks from behind the shadows of trees
Two more snow angels in the night
Then back to the fire
Leave the frosted field behind
Let the starry night be alone
Without jealousy
feeling of your light
Illuminating its wintery scene

from Fat Poet Dies in Grain Elevator Accident

Ode to Death

Devil devil die
Death mortal dead
Mucus moss filled death
Bad luck
And so on
from Car Sick from Circus Peanuts

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