Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ta Det Med Ro

A great old Norwegian idiom. Apparently my grandfather used it a lot. He was a depot master in Montana -- ran the train station. Ranchers and farmers would try to bribe him with thousands of dollars, so that they could get 4 boxcars instead of only 3 to move their grain come harvest time. He would not yield. Earned $1.85 an hour, and picked rocks on the weekends. Lived in relative poverty, with five kids, four daughters and my father in the middle. A bad marriage. Worked as a child from age nine to support his abandoned mother and three siblings. That would have been 1907. The pressure must have been overwhelming. He would not bend. He was proud of being Norwegian, for some reason. Surrounded by Germans and Poles. Made the kids say their prayers in the old language. Although he was born here.

Ta det med ro. Take it with ease. What a beautiful phrase. How wise. Was my grandfather wise? He lived into his nineties and died because he just stopped eating. I remember him as an old man, bald, not large but hard. He was probably reminding himself, the way we need to do, about how to stay alive. Take it with ease. Not take it easy, mind you. My grandfather did not take it easy. I picked rocks as a kid. Because they made me. My grandfather did it because he needed the money -- four daughters and a nagging wife. This was in the 1930s, so there's that. There is a difference, more felt than spoken, between the two, with ease and easy.

I drove my father to some medical thing this morning, to one of his genius doctors. My father is a very strange man. He talked about a cousin of mine, again, dead now, a genius, law school at an early age, prosecutor in Dade County Florida. "He probably had an IQ 50 points higher than average." My IQ is higher than that. He must know that. I know it because it was in my school records. It was surprising. In those days they still measured IQs in schools. They must have talked to my father after they tested me. My brother said once, "Like, you're some kind of genius, right?" It was one of the few human things he ever said to me. It must have been a family rumor. Now boys, Jackie has a genius IQ, but nobody is ever to talk about it, and don't be jealous. "Well, I tested pretty well, they seem to think." So all this constant harping about genius, from my father, yet he is incapable of listening to me. Makes me doubt the sincerity of his admiration for genius.

He got to badmouthing that same brother, his choice of a bride. "All these women do is hunt for men online all day long -- they're basically prostitutes. Then they catch one and get pregnant and get alimony." He actually said something like this to my brother. "I tried to warn him after he got married." I just had to say it: "That is really, really bad advice. Good advice isn't just true -- you have to say it right. You married a slut and you're just a sucker. Not such a good thing to say. What man would stand by and have his wife slandered?" But my father wasn't listening. "People just don't like to take advice," he said. No indeed, they do not.

We're all driven. Even the ones who take it easy. It takes real resolve to sit and watch TV all day long. The determination to waste time shouldn't be downgraded, just because it's passive. Self destruction takes a lot of energy. That's why there's so little left to actually get things done.

I do love the weather in this time of year. It's just now feeling autumnal. Pretty good workout last night. Did it with a 20 pound weight vest on. Feel fine today. Isn't it odd, how excellence is so important? With me it's always been intellectual and to a lesser degree physical excellence. Jealous for my character and my integrity, profoundly untrusting but unwavering in my loyalty once I give it. I sound like a pretty great guy, don't I. There are, sadly, plenty of rocks left in the field that need to be picked. There's a part of my soul where I'm just watching TV.

I asked if it was an old-time saying, ta det med ro, from a hundred and thirty years ago, that got remembered in the US but had fallen into obscurity in the hustle and bustle of Oslo. Nope -- they still use it.

My father said about how he visited his father's grave, 15 years ago. He admitted to tearing up. I did not say that the only good that tears can do is to wash us from the inside. One of the best things I did as a father was to just keep my mouth shut, sometimes. Kids should be allowed to make mistakes without being corrected. Correct yourself. Take it with ease.


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