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Bergeson column: Frogs, salmon and coffee

My 96-year-old great Aunt Olive has lived a long and eventful life.

As an infant, her father took her to hear Teddy Roosevelt speak -- not because she'd understand what was going on, but just so she could later say she had been in the presence of the famous president.

Later, she watched Charles Lindberg fly over as he barnstormed the nation after his famous trans-Atlantic flight to Paris.

During the Depression, Aunt Olive taught in several one-room schools. Scandalously lenient, she played rough games with the school kids at recess. Her curriculum emphasized singing, parties and programs.

The kids loved her, but the school board thought she was too lax with the budget. The final straw came when they found that she had used school funds to purchase toilet paper for the outhouse.

Outrage! The school board figured that if the Sears-Roebuck catalog was good enough for them, it was good enough for the kids. Aunt Olive was fired.

The kids would have none of it. They went on strike. The school board was forced to reconsider. Aunt Olive was rehired and promptly used school funds to buy a baseball and a bat for use on the playground.

Aunt Olive's teaching career took her to the West Coast and finally into retirement in the 1970s, yet the kids from that country school have stayed in touch with her. In fact, she has outlived most of them.

Her secret to a long life?

Aunt Olive has goals. When she attains one goal, she promptly puts another carrot out on the end of the stick. She has too much to do to start acting old.

Lately, her goal has been to live long enough to vote for the first woman president. With hopes for that dream now all but dashed, Aunt Olive turned towards a more immediate dream: She wanted to hear frogs croak one more time before she died.

After the recent snow finally melted and the frogs on my swamp started to sing again, the time seemed right.

One evening last week, I drove to town, loaded Aunt Olive into my pickup and took her out to the swamp. On a whim, I put the pickup in four-wheel drive and drove it up a muddy earthen ramp I had constructed to give me a better view of the birds.

We have the trick of getting Aunt Olive into my pickup mastered, but getting out on a ramp in the swamp was a different matter. Aunt Olive sank into the mud and nearly rolled into the water.

Once I got her propped against the pickup, the problem became Olive's hearing. It isn't good. Her hearing aid didn't seem to pick up frog croaks. So, I fashioned a funnel out of a manila folder and sure enough, the device worked.

Not only was Olive able to hear a few frog croaks, but she also picked up some blackbird trills. And, she saw the swans hiding in the reeds.

Mission accomplished -- almost. Turns out that Aunt Olive decided that at the same time she came out to hear the frogs it would be nice to have some canned salmon, a pleasure denied her in the nursing home because nobody can stand the smell.

And while we were at it, we had just as well have coffee, some toast and a dill pickle.

I purchased a can of salmon in preparation for the frog trip. I had coffee on hand. But I sort of forgot about the dill pickle.

"You aren't very Norwegian," Olive grumbled in disbelief when I told her I had no dill pickles in my fridge.

Even though she had just had supper, Aunt Olive downed a half-a-can of salmon, three cups of coffee and a few Spanish olives. The olives were a substitute for the dill pickles.

Overall, the evening was a resounding success. "This will satisfy me until September!" Olive said with contentment as we drove back to the nursing home.

I don't know what exactly Aunt Olive has planned for September. That will be revealed in due time. It could be anything from a trip to Flom to an outing to the Pizza Hut in Moorhead.

But you know Olive's going to find a new goal to attain, a new carrot to put at the end of the stick.

Especially now that she's caught the frogs and the salmon.