Steve Briggs of Grantsburg is a former editor and writer for the Burnett County Sentinel and now writes for Drydenwire.com.
1) When I was born (1951) dads weren’t allowed in the delivery room. The nurse called my dad at home, awakening him and a two-year-old at 2:30 a.m. to give him the joyful news he had a son. He says he said, “Couldn’t this call wait until morning?” and went back to sleep.
2) I lived in the same house in Dawson, MN from birth to high school graduation. It was a community of Norwegian characters who disciplined each others’ kids. I couldn’t get away with a danged thing.
My pedal car wasn’t wide enough for two. I sat on a board so Pal Kate could ride beside me.
3) In a youthful attempt at riding a horse, I flung myself onto a bareback pony like the boys in cowboy and Indian movies. Startled, it took off at a gallop. Soon I was under the horse, arms and legs wrapped around its neck. Then I was on ground, bruised but wiser.
On my final horse ride at age 22, the plodding horse turned the trail corner to head back to the barn and suddenly took off, veering off the trail under low-hanging branches to jettison its rider. I was forewarned or it would have worked. I’m done with horses.
4) I grew up in farm country. One pre-teen job was walking soybean fields pulling weeds out by the roots. I covered four rows at a time while walking the half-section field. The rows were one-half mile long, so each round-trip in summer heat covered a mile. It paid 50 cents per hour.
5) First job interview was at age 10. I was hired to deliver The Minneapolis Evening Star and Morning Tribune seven days per week. In the summer, I pedaled a bike with wire saddle baskets to carry the 40 papers. In winter I slung a big pouch over my shoulder and walked the 2.5 mile route. Each paper had to be placed inside the screen door, or on the porch, or hand-delivered to the customer.
I did the weekly payment collection on Saturday mornings, and soon learned when the ladies did their baking. Mrs. Hauge’s caramel rolls came out of the oven at 9 a.m. and Mrs. L.O. Michaelson’s cookies were cooling by 10:30. The job provided responsibilities, spending money, saving money and exciting trips to the big city of Minneapolis by signing up new subscribers. I wish kids today could have paper routes.
6) As a teen, I lost my fear of heights while standing atop a 20’ extension ladder to paint peaks of houses and barns on a summer painting crew with another student and two school teachers. The four of us would all stand on a single plank suspended between two tall ladders and paint long barn walls. One summer during college I was a cement worker on grain bin construction up to 120’ high.
7) Two influential adults in my youth were Mrs. Wold, seventh grade English teacher who read my science fiction short story aloud to the class and encouraged me to become a writer. T. O. Vaala was a retired country school teacher who spoke with a Norwegian accent. A man of considerable intellect, patience and kindness, T.O. helped more than 50 boys, including me, attain the Eagle Scout rank.
8) At age 21 a friend asked me to be in his wedding but said I first needed to grow whiskers to match the other groomsmen. I ended up with the goatee I’ve worn for 40+ years.
9) The most interesting college classes were politics and news writing. That led to a paid summer internship as a cub reporter for the Fargo (ND) Daily Forum and a degree In communications. Writing about people’s challenges and accomplishments is still the best part of the job.
10) Eight years into editing newspapers, I got an offer to move into an entirely new career of marketing computer systems to newspapers. I traveled the country during the 1980s, visiting all states except Oregon and Alaska. First I sold to small daily papers but later called on some of the nation’s largest papers including the New York Times, Washington Post, Atlanta Constitution and Miami Herald. Very exciting and terrifying.
11) Playing golf was a great ice breaker with business clients. I’ve played courses in 15 states from Hawaii to Florida, California to New York. When one learns to relax, enjoy companions and forget the scorecard, golf can actually be played without swearing.
12) I was a single man until one week shy of age 36. My greatest stroke of luck in this life is that my dear wife, Linda Benge, was willing to go out with me again seven years after I dumped her, as she reminds me. Then she married me and has put up with me for 30 years. In our youth we lived in three different communities at the same time before we met, so it seems Providential we are together. We are blessed with three daughters.
13) Memorable travel experiences: snorkeling inside an extinct volcano full of tropical fish off the coast of Maui while on our honeymoon; falling out of the raft and into a rushing river while white-water rafting in West Virginia, leaving Linda alone inside the raft; picking cherries and exploring Door County and Washington Island with my sweetheart; skiing in the Austrian Alps; a wild ride in an acrobatic airplane over Kansas; an extended stay at a 17th century villa in the English countryside; making an emotional visit to the graves of ancestors in Vermont; canoeing for days in the Boundary Waters and Canada without seeing another group; receiving a standing ovation after singing with the Grantsburg Community Chorale and other choirs at New York City’s Carnegie Hall.
14) I do genealogy and suspect most families may have a rotten branch on the family tree. My cousin Edy says we have a 1700s relative who named his sons “Reverend" and “Doctor" Briggs to give them respectability, but all three ended up in the hoosegow together.
15) Sounds crazy, but I love going to government meetings and writing the news stories. It’s democracy in action. Also, I’ll visit any museum whether it’s cars, art, science, history, radios, natural history, medical maladies, outboard motors — anything. Sorry, daughters.
16) Perhaps like many who have lived six decades, I have survived brushes with injury or death. Barely avoided a high speed, head-on snowmobile collision. Tipped a farm tractor almost on its side before it dropped back onto its tires. Came to stop unharmed on an icy road after doing a 360 on a slick bridge. Landed roughly in a Kansas windstorm in a small plane with a hungover pilot. Ignorantly stood way too close to the tracks as a high-speed train zipped past. I know people who weren’t so lucky and I’m grateful.
17) I was elected twice to the Burnett County Board of Supervisors and then stepped down after two terms. I learned good ideas don’t make progress unless one first builds relationships and accepts the give-and-take. Even on the local level, politics is hard work. One must be respectful, especially with those whom you disagree.
My seat at the World Series
18) I attended the seventh and final game when the Minnesota Twins won the 1991 World Series. Twins’ pitcher Jack Morris shut out Atlanta 1-0 in 10 innings in a game sportswriters rank among the best-ever. My seat was free! But, it was also the worst seat in the house. I was at the top of the Metrodome’s right field seats with a support post one foot in front of me. I could see the outfield but not the pitcher or batter. I watched the replay screen and listened to the game on a radio earbud to know what was going on. The victory celebration was fantastic!
19) Among my paid jobs: taxi driver, landscaper, pothole repairer, waiter, barn and bridge painter, dump truck driver, US Mail carrier, bartender, substitute school teacher, licensed insurance salesman, prison librarian, Notary Public, courier, preacher, computer trainer, wedding officiant, census taker, over-the-road semi truck driver, newspaper editor and photographer, plus many kinds of sales. In one job I commuted monthly for two years from Grantsburg to California’s Silicon Valley.
20) I love all kinds of motor racing from dirt track to NASCAR, drag racing to Indy cars and Formula 1. It’s so much more than cars going in circles. A great thrill was covering the Indianapolis 500 three times in my 20s as a newspaper sports reporter with access to the pits and drivers.
21) Important life lesson: Give what you want to get back. Always show respect. Be a good listener. If you want joy, friendship, kindness and laughter, first extend them to others. Here endeth my sermon for the day.
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