Looking Forward

The author at age five weeks with my baptismal sponsors, Aunt Winnie and Uncle Bill.

Today I am officially a septuagenarian. Deep in memories of the previous 70 years, on this day, my birthday, I’m looking forward.

Blessed with good health, I can see 80 from here. 90 is too far ahead for clarity. The goal is to make the best use of my time before shuffling off this mortal coil.

I have no profound thoughts or statements upon turning 70. It is another day to accomplish things. I may accomplish taking a nap after lunch. Priorities change with age.

Yesterday, for the third year in a row, this blog passed 12,000 views. While I’m not running a major outlet here, I am grateful to everyone who finds me and spends time reading what I wrote.

My best wishes for the next ten years. There is so much to do before the final curtain call.


Lorraine Anne Deaton

Lorraine Deaton at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Mother died at 2:45 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 15. I wrote this obituary for the newspaper with input from my sister. Here is a link to the funeral home site with details about the service.

Lorraine Anne (Jabus) Deaton, 90, died Thursday, Aug. 15, at Genesis Medical Center in Davenport.

Born at home on July 28, 1929 near LaSalle, Ill., Lorraine moved with her family to Davenport where her mother joined several sisters at a coat-making plant supporting the World War II effort. She graduated from Davenport High School, and then worked briefly for the telephone company where she established relationships with people who would become life-long friends.

Family relationships remained an important part of her life. Family included her husband, brothers and sisters, in-laws, three children, and numerous aunts, uncles and cousins, many of whom lived in the Quad-Cities Area.

She married Jack H. Deaton from Glamorgan, Va. in 1951 at Holy Family Catholic Church, eventually settling in Northwest Davenport where they established a home. She was active in the church where she participated in community organizations and worked in the school lunch program. She was particularly proud of her volunteer work with the Girl Scouts where she mentored many young girls.

After her husband died in an industrial accident on Feb. 1, 1969, she found work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She made a career at the Corps, retiring in 1990 as Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for the Rock Island District. While there she was named Woman of the Year.

In retirement Lorraine remained active in the community. Among other volunteer positions, in recent years she worked at the public library where she helped staff the used book store.

Lorraine Deaton was preceded in death by her husband; her parents, Mae (Nadolski) Jabus and William Dziabas; sisters Winifred Plantan (Hank) and Catherine Nash (Vince); and brothers Richard Robbins (Dorothy) and William Jabus (Marilyn).

Survivors include son Paul Deaton (Jacqueline) of Solon, daughter Patricia Deaton and son Jack Deaton Jr., both of Davenport, and a granddaughter Elizabeth Deaton of Orlando, Fla.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to a local Girl Scout troop or Girl Scouts of America at

Funeral service was Monday, Sept. 9, at Halligan McCabe DeVries Funeral Home, with interment at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Davenport.

Milestones Work Life

Bernardo Bertolucci and General Motors

Bernardo Bertolucci (77) died yesterday in Rome, Italy where he had been suffering from cancer. The bigger news was General Motors’ decision to reduce workforce and eliminate six car models, including the Chevrolet Volt rechargeable gas-electric hybrid.

What do they have in common besides their coincidence?

They both hit me where I live.

When I returned from military service I spent time viewing movies I missed coming up, including The Conformist. I became enamored of the film, its director Bertolucci, and its cinematographer Vittorio Storaro. On my cross-country trip from New Jersey, where my pickup truck had been shipped from Germany, enroute home to Iowa, I visited friends Diana and Dennis in Springfield, Illinois. Diana fed us cornbread and beans and Dennis and I went to see Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, with cinematography by Storaro. That night began an infatuation with cinema that continued through my return home and lingered into the early years of our marriage. Of the films I have seen, The Conformist ranks in my top ten.

The Conformist

Partly The Conformist resonated with my short trips to Italy in the 1970s. More, though, it was Marcello Clerici, the vacillating, spineless protagonist who would kill his professor in a woods at the direction of the Communist Party. Who would want to be that? Not me. Not anyone. The impression the film made on my artistic consciousness persists. I will be forever thankful to Bertolucci for his contribution to this formative experience.

The General Motors announcement was a gut punch to anyone who lived and worked in the Rust Belt.

“The reductions could amount to as much as eight percent of GM’s global workforce of 180,000 employees,” Tom Krisher wrote for Associated Press.

What makes this pill tough to swallow is the damage that has already been done throughout the industrialized part of the country. I’ve written extensively about my experiences recruiting truck drivers in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania during the period 1987 – 1993. I met thousands of people laid off from industry jobs. What makes the GM announcement different is what I experienced then was related to globalization. What’s happening now has to do with board room decisions emboldened by the recent Republican tax breaks.

The Conformist

There is talk unions will negotiate a better deal for workers as GM moves forward with their plans. How has that worked before? It hasn’t. The only union-related board member had been from the UAW health care trust, a position vacant since December 2017. The fund lost the board seat in October after selling a big chunk of GM stock.

Why would a person that drives a 21-year old passenger car care what GM does? When you’ve seen the faces of long-term employees who lost everything after a plant closing or down-sizing, you know what this announcement from GM means to workers. Only a cold, venal, rudderless being like Marcello Clerici could look on and not feel anything.

Milestones Writing

We’re Going Home — Donald Kaul

RAGBRAI 1973; Photo Credit – RAGBRAI

We knew Donald Kaul had prostate cancer and it spread to his bones. He’d been ill for a number of years but after this diagnosis, the prognosis was not good — we expected him to die this year and he did on July 22, just as the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, which he co-founded with John Karras, was getting started.

I’ve never ridden on RAGBRAI, but made a few long runs on the bicycle I bought after graduate school. I even made a century ride through the countryside near Iowa City and discovered what glycogen depletion is. Kaul played a role in Iowa’s bicycle culture. His influence was more than that.

After returning from the military I found a paucity of intellectually engaged people in my home town. Not that there weren’t like-minded men and women, just not very many of them. I began to follow Kaul more than I had.

My first paid work was delivering newspapers for the Des Moines Register while in grade school. That was around 1965 which was when Kaul began writing Over the Coffee full time. The Register didn’t sell many papers in Davenport and my paper route involved a lot of walking with very few deliveries. I recall one of my customers talking about Kaul when I collected — his column was somewhat controversial. I moved on to the Times-Democrat which sold a lot more papers. When I began high school in 1966 I had to give up my paper route. There was apparently a rule.

Despite this history, I was not an avid newspaper reader. I certainly didn’t read every column Kaul wrote. He was a placeholder for the idea that we could do better in life than work for a wage, hit the bars, sleep it off, and wake up to do it again. I wanted something else from my life in Davenport and Kaul created an option.

“Donald Kaul is at least five different columnists, which is a pretty spectacular bargain for his readers,” Vance Bourjaily wrote in the forward to How to Light a Water Heater and Other War Stories: A Random Collection of Essays.

Bourjaily famously moved from the East Coast to work at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lived in the country and named his place Red Bird Farm. He wrote about men and horses and going to the dentist: things that resonate if one lives around here. Bourjaily captured the essence of Kaul.

“It is one of the pleasures of following Kaul’s column in the Register most days, as most of Iowa does,” he wrote, “that one can never be sure which of the five columnists the paper boy will bring this morning.”

Since Bourjaily died in 2010, I won’t have to break the news “most of Iowa” didn’t have home deliveries of the Register, ever. Some of those who did detested Kaul’s columns, and cancelled their subscription over it. Nonetheless, I like to think the inflated picture Bourjaily drew of Kaul as representative of what I hoped would be… even if it wasn’t.

I keep copies of some of Kaul’s books close by. If I need a lift, or inspiration, I read one of his columns. He was part of the development of my pursuit of intellectual interests. He may have prevented me from staying on in my home town to become another shoppie. Thank God for Donald Kaul, although that’s pretty ironic given his atheism.

If only I could write so well.

Donald Kaul has gone home and we’ll miss him.

Home Life Milestones

Remembering Donald Kaul in High Summer

Sweet Corn from a Roadside Stand

Sunday was a day to hang out on memory lane.

Sweet corn, tomatoes, cucumbers and Donald Kaul.

I bought sweet corn from a roadside stand and we had it for dinner with tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden, and thin slices of cheddar cheese from Vermont.

At some point after our return to Iowa in 1993, I decided to outsource corn growing. It takes up too much space and what space could be devoted to it produced a small crop. It was a good decision.

I cooked and froze the remainder of three dozen ears in two-cup portions in zip top bags.

We revisited stories of our lives during and after dinner.

How our cat would lick the cobs cleaned of corn kernels.

How putting up corn had been a long tradition — a family project.

How simple and good this year’s corn tasted compared to the past.

The trick to eating sweet corn is knowing how much to eat without getting a belly ache. The first ear was buttered, then sprinkled with lemon pepper seasoning and a little salt. Three ears is a usual portion. I ate four and went light on the salt. There were no ill effects.


The arrival of sweet corn and tomatoes is the arrival of high summer. A short window — a couple of weeks max — when summer is good and we get a chance to be human again.

That’s something we need in this turbulent world.

In Iowa we also have the Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa, more commonly known as RAGBRAI, which began yesterday. Donald Kaul and John Karras were two Des Moines Register reporters behind the annual event. It was expected this year, and Kaul died of prostate cancer Sunday morning.

“On January 11, 2018, Kaul, an agnostic, revealed that the cancer in his prostrate has spread to his skeleton and that he will no longer take treatments,” wrote Des Moines Register columnist Kyle Munson. “He was in the end stages of his battle with cancer and didn’t expect to live beyond the year.”

The end came at 11:50 a.m., according to a local radio station.

The narrative of this year’s RAGBRAI seems already written, and it doesn’t include Kaul. There is time for some show of recognition on the seven-day tour. We’ll see what happens.

For me RAGBRAI was about the summer of 1973 when it started. An artist I met in Davenport invited me to her family’s home near the Catholic orphanage to meet her parents. Her brother was out in the garage when I met him too. He was talking about riding his bicycle across the state with the Des Moines Register. Over the Coffee, Kaul’s column, was popular in this household.

Today people prepare for months for the long endurance test the annual ride has become. Specialized, lightweight bicycles, meal plans, and training. Not in 1973 when the sequence of events was 1. figure out how to get to the Missouri River with the bike; 2. tighten up the hub axle nuts; and 3. air up the tires. I can’t recall, but I don’t believe he even had a derailleur gear on his bike. It was pretty simple then and proved to be enduring.

Kaul’s death on the beginning day of the 46th RAGBRAI is likely coincidence. In any case, he is memorable for his writing more than his promotion of bicycle riding.

In high summer, after our dinner of sweet corn and tomatoes, my wife and I discussed our interactions with Donald Kaul. She got his autograph in a bookstore in Iowa City, and I corresponded with him when he was a Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Register. He was a constant part of our Iowa lives. That will still be true now he succumbed to cancer.

Milestones Writing

Friday in Spring

Retaining Wall

Fridays in Spring I soil-block for a farmer.

Yesterday I made 4,944 soil blocks which were planted in winter share. Leeks, broccoli and the like. It took four hours.

While driving north on Highway One I nodded off for a brief moment. After realizing it I sat upright, glanced in the mirror and concentrated on staying awake.

It’s not like I didn’t get a full night’s sleep Thursday… I did.

The combination of sun and repetitive work may have worn me out.

After arriving home I walked the garden, checked seedlings for moisture level, took a shower, and crashed into a two-hour nap. It’s become a Friday pattern.

Then I remember it was not soil blocking that wore me out but the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in France.

Bourdain was a celebrity I liked. I read Kitchen Confidential a number of years ago and watched him on Food Network. In many ways, he is what I’d like to be as a writer, although with less inebriation. How little we know about celebrities. His suicide makes no sense. It may never make sense.

A memorable episode from Bourdain’s television work was when he returned to Borneo and got a chest tattoo on camera. He appeared to be drunk and uncomfortable. In a later CNN interview he recounted the process was much more painful than expected. We already knew that from the video. A reality came through in much of Bourdain’s work — one of his making. That’s why I liked him. The ability to depict a reality is essential to creative endeavor. Bourdain and his crew were masters at what they did. He’s gone too soon and will be missed.

I brought home a bag of groceries from the farm — lettuce, sugar snap peas, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, spring onions and kale. After napping I washed lettuce for salads and stored it in the ice box until supper time. I’m not sure what else got done. Maybe nothing, or something… whatever.

Fridays have been like that in spring.

Home Life Living in Society Milestones Social Commentary

Layered with Sadness

Sundog Farm

In our neighborhood a preteen found his father collapsed in the yard and ran for help. Despite best efforts by his partner of 30 years, emergency responders, and staff at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, he died Sunday. The funeral is Friday.

A layer of sadness blankets places I go.

It’s not just the death of a neighbor. Cold weather is delaying farmers from getting into the field. Tension permeates everything. We laugh but avoid the reality that something has to give — perhaps delaying the spring share until plants grow. Perhaps something else. We are ready for the weather to break.

Temperatures today are forecast in the low thirties… again. It’s April 18 for goodness sake! The garden should be a third planted by now. It has been difficult to spend time outside, bundled up to keep warm. It’s not the cold as much as it is a nagging hesitancy to venture out into the cold spring.

When we moved to Big Grove, before we put curtains in the living room, I sat on the couch after a long day and watched airplanes make their approach to the nearby Eastern Iowa Airport. Even though my wife and daughter were nearby I felt alone and on my own from time to time. I picked myself up from the couch and engaged in a diverse life. Every so often the quiet in the house is overwhelming, even today. I feel isolated from what matters most. The feeling passes.

I had a physical examination in town, and my arms ache. In my left shoulder I got a pneumonia vaccine and in my right a shingles vaccine. Both require boosters down the line. I had blood drawn for lab tests by a nurse I’ve known more than a dozen years. Achy doesn’t really describe it. I removed the three bandages and piled them up on the night stand this morning. The shingles vaccine is doing its job making me feel sore and unsettled.

Doctor did a depression screening. I passed, that is, I don’t believe I’m clinically depressed… just a bit saddened by the layers of crap we have to live through. It’s partly politics but it’s more than that. It’s as if everything with which we marked boundaries of our lives is being razed, surveyor pins pushed out of place by construction’s bulldozers. All we can do is put the pins back and start over. That’s what I hope to do.

Eventually the weather will break and my farmer friends will get the crop planted. Visitation for my late neighbor is tomorrow. I’m to pick up a sympathy card and a couple of restaurant gift cards to give the family a chance to get out of the house for a while. We all need a break.

The layer of sadness is palpable. At the same time as long as we pick ourselves up and go on living we’ll be alright. at least that is what we hope.


Joy Corning

Joy Corning – Photo Credit: Iowa General Assembly

Joy Corning was on our target list to become an advocate for U.S. Senate ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Heady with Barack Obama’s 2008 victory, and confident Senate ratification of the New START Treaty would be a slam dunk, a nationwide coalition was formed to advocate for CTBT ratification after the 1999 failed attempt during the Bill Clinton administration.

Corning was on a short list of Republicans we wanted to contact Senator Chuck Grassley about the treaty. As things go in an advocacy coalition, I wasn’t the one to contact her. Someone in Des Moines phoned her and she called back.

“(Corning) had to decline our request that she make an appeal to Senator Grassley,” he wrote. “She said she needs to contact him on so many things, and she needs to have only a few top priorities and couldn’t add this.  She said she is working hard to bring her Republican Party back toward the center.”

Joy Corning died yesterday.

As it turned out, ratification of the New START Treaty was not a slam dunk and we adjusted our focus. Nonetheless, our contacts with Corning taught some lessons to those willing and able to hear them.

Always return phone calls. People who get things done in society almost always do.

Know who you are. While she couldn’t sign on to our cause the way we wanted, her efforts to “bring her Republican Party back toward the center” seem ennobling in the era of FOX News and right-wing talk radio. She fought that fight against steep odds and never gave up.

Focus on what’s most important. There is never unlimited time to advocate with an elected official. One must always be brief, be brilliant and be gone, lest our cause fade into obscurity.

Set the example. Corning’s daughters added the following to her online obituary, “Mother’s life was a model of class and grace, kindness and cooperation, service and civility. She led by example and always saw the good in everyone. She was active until the very end on efforts that supported human rights and justice for all.”

A person should embrace these qualities. That is Joy Corning’s legacy.


RIP Members of the Red Army Choir

A Russian airplane with 92 people on board crashed into the Black Sea near Sochi, Russia today. While rescue teams search for survivors, it appears all lives were lost, including 72 members of the Red Army Choir who were enroute to Syria to entertain Russian troops.

The world is saddened by the loss. Here is a sample of their recent work.


Three Recent Cancer Victims

Mr. Bedford, left, as Lady Bracknell and Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a 2010 production at the American Airlines Theater. (Photo Credit: New York Times
Brian Bedford, left, as Lady Bracknell and Charlotte Parry as Cecily Cardew in “The Importance of Being Earnest,” a 2010 production at the American Airlines Theater. (Photo Credit: New York Times)

The recent passing of David Bowie, Alan Rickman and Brian Bedford, all from cancer, reminds us that no matter the place people hold in our imagination we are grounded in a humanity that can be taken from us equally.

They will be missed.

I know least about David Bowie. He was one of many rock and roll stars who came up at the same time, some of which I followed and some I didn’t. He falls from space into the latter category midst a grab bag of male artists that includes Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Prince, Freddy Mercury, George Harrison and others.

What distinguished Bowie was less his music than the creation of asset-backed securities from it. In 1997 he gave up the financial rights to his catalog of 25 record albums produced before 1990 in favor of a lump sum of $55 million, creating “Bowie bonds.” Intellectual property rights securitization, while little known, was one of Bowie’s many innovations. After a ten-year period without default, the rights to revenues reverted back to Bowie. For more about David Bowie, read the New York Times obituary.

The death of English actor and director Alan Rickman is more personal. It has been a running family joke that I recognized Alan Rickman from his portrayal of Hans Gruber in the film Die Hard, knowing full well that others in the family were enamored of his performances in Sense and Sensibility and as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films. There was a lot more to Rickman than his characters. Would that I had learned more while he was living. Read the New York Times obituary here.

Finally, Brian Bedford whom we know from the Stratford Festival of Canada. At 80, he was closest to living the full span. I was endeared to him because he came up in classical theater. We saw his one-man performance of “The Lunatic the Lover and the Poet” at Stratford.

Our daughter sought out the actor for a brief moment after the play. Actors are quite adept at quickly slipping out the back, but no match for her. She returned after a brief conversation with an autographed program.

Already memories of them are beginning to fade, along with so much about the time in which we grew up. It seems fitting to remember one more time.