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”.

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

The Perfect Day

A pushy gray sky sinks
Dripping teeth into my day
What to do but stay
In my shelter
Thoughts of Helter Skelter
Mariah Carey
All somewhere playing
With the sun
Frightened away

_______from Car Sick from Circus Peanuts


That guy’s a no good pimp
He’s got no weapon or guts
She’s like a butterfly
In a jar
Tempered like hot steal
Hardened by a starless night
She needs to be found

Not enough holes in the lid
That pimp’s gonna get cut
She’s wanting to get free
Wants to run wants to strut
She cuts herself deep
Never seems to bleed
Has to fight to breathe

The girls on the street know
Her name is Sweetness
Glass not thick enough to hold
Her clock is ticking
With blade in silent stocking
Heels clack down the street

Pimp sees nothing coming
Ninety seven pounds of hate
Push a singing blade through
Two goal tended ribs
And heart screams obscenities
At pimp body and mind

Sweetness calmly walks
Away and free
For another day

from Fat Poet Dies in Grain Elevator Accident & Other Poems


Vacation from Saginaw

I pulled into Bethlehem
Sixty miles from Nazareth
Who knew to say amen to PA
Dreamed of leaving Saginaw
And heading not far enough south
Got a job as a forklift driver
Punched a clock at a cold storage
Quit for Fort Lauderdale FLA
Traded Harley Davidson beer
For a place to sleep and a seat at the bar
Ambled to Key West
Camped in a tent and slept on lawns
And post office parking lots
Thrown in jail in Beaumont Texas
For getting drunk and fighting
The KKK where it lives
Seems like a bad idea
Broke down losing a tranny
Inches from Cody Wyoming
Accidentally went fishing
With a killer
That guy really hated
Got to San Fran in time for
The ’89 earthquake and into
L.A. in time for mother’s to cringe
And pull children to the other side of the street
When our long hair came towards
Headed to Mexico for Johnny Carson
In Spanish and cockroaches on the bar
Threatened jail in Tijuana
By Mexican cops looking to make a buck
Landed in Vegas and met some ladies
Ran over a wild boar in Texas
Can’t stop to clean the car
Carried the stench to New Orleans
Put on a mask and walked in a cemetery
Pointed north
Kicked out of St. Louis for disparaging Bud
Kicked out of Iowa for cursing in a pub
Can’t go to heaven for fear of the snub
So went to Wisconsin
Landing in the summer with a fin
Bought a drink and a sin
That was one helluva vacation
Can’t wait to get back to Saginaw
And get laid off again

from Fat Poet Dies in Grain Elevator Accident & Other Poems


Mountain Cabin

Log cabin befriends the side of the mountain
Smoke slips out of the chimney
Like a grey woman from a corset
Free and relaxed on the bed of a sky
Logs call to squirrels and chipmunks
Tall trees look down on fallen brethren
Stacked atop each other for comfort
Of others
Sideway glances to heaven
Kept from decaying grave by stain

Log cabin holds within the warmth
A dangerous fire burns with trust
Can’t hang a picture inside
Nothing smooth and simple
Mimicking real life
Keeping weather away silent
Snow drifts with the wind
For hundreds of years the same
Way down the mountain life blooms

from Fat Poet Dies in Grain Elevator Accident & Other Poems


Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Stay at Home Sad | All Rights Reserved.

Coralis Theme by dkszone.net