It's 51 degrees, the sun is shining brightly and I'm sitting at a table in Princeton's spacious Mark Park. People are  walking their dogs, grandparents are with their grandkids at the playground or ballfields, there are some walking, 10 cars are in the  parking lot, teens are throwing a football around, and other teens descend on the park after a day of distance learning.

What's so unusual about that? It's Wednesday, Dec. 9, in Minnesota, where the average high this time of year is 29 degrees. And yet the sun is shining brightly, there's no snow on the ground, and Old Glory hangs as limply as a dishrag on the flagpole just a few yards away. Contrails from a passing jet, back lit by the sun, appear in the southern sky, a precursor to the dazzling sight a few hours later of the northern lights that we in Minnesota are privileged to see on occasion. 

Drawn to the park by the weather, I've got a book, two days worth of crossword puzzles, and a phone from which the songs of Elvis (no last name needed), the Everly Brothers and the Carpenters  are playing, as well as giving me news at the top of the hour. And it hits me: Who'd have thought back in the '60s that a phone would be playing music that we listened to then on a radio, be it at home, in the car or on one of those new-fangled transistor radios that were the rage?

The sun is so bright that I can't make out who was in a car from which someone waved after bringing his kids to the playground. But no big thing, — he called on his cell to let me know it was him who waved and we talked for a couple minutes about the weather, his attempts at being a teacher in these days of distance learning, and the fact that the Minnesota Twins were now going to have their top minor league team just 10 minutes away across the river in St. Paul.

A woman, age undisclosed but likely in her sixties, walked by and asked, "Is that Karen Carpenter singing?" I answered that it was. "Can I stop and listen to the rest of the song?" she asked. "Sure," I answered. The strains of "Goodbye To Love"  can be heard as she listens: "All the years of useless search have finally reached an end. Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend. From this day love is forgotten. I'll go on as best I can."  She listens to the rest of the song, thanks me and walks away slowly as another song begins, perhaps thinking of an earlier place and time in her life.

I'm stumped for a minute or two as I try to figure out what word or words (eight spaces) would qualify for the answer to the clue of "double-checked" for 36 Across in the crossword. But then I figure out that IBM is the answer for 24 Down (early PC maker) and the M in that answer leads me to "made sure" as the answer for 36 across. I finally finish that crossword puzzle, which doesn't happen too often, and move on to the book titled "A Higher Loyalty" by former FBI director James Comey that is fascinating reading as he tells about his interaction with President Trump, Trump having a very misguided idea of what an FBI director should do.

It's a day that could pass for March or April in Minnesota, or perhaps October. Just a few yards away is beautiful Solheim Veterans Field, a place where baseball has been played for 51 years, a place where I played in four of the five decades the field has been there after longtime high school and American Legion baseball coach Howard Solheim spearheaded a drive to open the field in 1970. The place has lots of memories for me, including umpiring and covering more than a thousand games for the paper, and for a few minutes I do nothing but allow some of those memories to come flooding back on a day that's nicer for baseball than many we have in April, in a state that often doesn't cooperate with good weather for high school baseball. Because of a nice fall and good grooming by those who do such things, the carpet of green grass is as beautiful as it normally is in the summer. You could play baseball there today . . . in December.

There's another Carpenters song playing on the phone and it reminds me that Karen Carpenter, dead too soon at age 32 in 1983 after a battle with anorexia, Elvis (1977 at age 42) and Phil Everly (2014) have left us, only his brother Don and Karen's brother Richard still around. From "Superstar" I hear that three-octave contralto voice of Karen Carpenter singing "Long ago and, oh, so far away; I fell in love with you , , , Loneliness is such a sad affair, And I can hardly wait to be with you again."

(Lest you think I'm an old fuddy-duddy by bringing up Elvis, the Everlys and the Carpenters, Wednesday night I watched the 1980 movie "Blues Brothers" with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, a movie I had somehow not seen in the 40- years it has been around. I was flipping around the hundreds of channels available on TV and there it was. It put me in mind of the appearance of Belushi's brother Jim at Bailey Ray's Roadhouse a few years ago in my favorite little town, Santiago, during the annual blues show formerly held there each summer. After the show was over Belushi brought his blues band inside and did an informal after-hours show with the doors locked and some lucky patrons inside.)

More than two hours have passed quickly at the park, a godsend in the pandemic-filled world of ours that often leaves us wondering what to do next to fill the time, a direct opposite of previous years when we sometimes couldn't find the time to  complete our self-assigned tasks. I managed to not think even once about getting Christmas cards printed and mailed.  The plan is to get home in time to watch the 5:00 news on TV so I mark the page in my book and close it, gather up the papers that contain the crossword puzzles, and grab my phone to turn off the music that has been a companion throughout the afternoon.

I shake my head in wonderment and try to remember if I've ever seen a December day like this in Minnesota. Perhaps, I think, but they're few and far between. That beautiful, haunting voice of Karen Carpenter is singing the final song of my day in the park, "Rainy Days and Mondays",  The somewhat-sad words "Talkin' to myself and feelin' old, Sometimes I'd like to quit, "Nothin' ever seems to fit, Hangin' around, Nothin' to do but frown." But then later, happier lyrics: "Funny, but it seems I always wind up here with you, Nice to know someone loves me."

That song, those words, remind me that I'm now in the winter of my years, years that seem to have fled by with perhaps things unsaid, things undone.

The December sun is low in the sky, its light filtering through the leaveless branches of the park's trees that offered welcome shade last July. 

It's time to go for today. And I know winter is coming. Still, what a day— what a day!


PRINCETON SPORTS MEMORIES

Dec. 23, 1965 —  With the score tied 23-23, heavyweight Pete Swanson got a pin for a 29-23 win over Monticello. Gary Stottler, Paul Roufs and Jack Holland also had pins for the Tigers.

Dec. 23,  1970 —Princeton beat Mora 73-67 as five players were in double figures. Leading the way was Pete Metcalf with 17. Others were Mike Barg (16), Bob Hedenstrom (14), Dean Bergstrom (13) and Howie Solheim (10).

Dec. 24, 1975 — Scott Erickson, averaging11.7 points and 12.8 rebounds through six games, led Princeton with 15 points in a 54-51 win over St. Paul Kellogg in the Spring Lake Park tournament. Stu Remus had 12 points.

Dec. 25, 1980 — Sophomore Barb Blomberg, off the bench, had 17 points and 9 rebounds in a 46-37 win over Chisago Lakes . . . Sophomore defenseman Greg Sather had two goals and two assists in a 7-6 win over Crosby-Ironton.

Dec. 19, 1985 —Eleven players scored in one game and nine in the other as the girls basketball team beat  Mora 63-38 and Milaca 48-27 to open defense of its Rum River title . . . Dan Voce scored three goals and Butch Vanderhoff got the shutout in a 7-0 hockey win over St. Francis.

Dec. 20, 1990 — Jim Linder won the 152-pound title at the Park Center wrestling tournament . . . The girls basketball team got of to a 3-0 start in the Rum River, winning at Milaca 62-58 and at home against Sauk Rapids, 68-32, Corrine Lundell scoring 49 points in the two games and Rachel Brown 30.

Dec. 21, 1995 — Goalie David Morisset made 31 saves in a 3-1 win over Pine City in a conference hockey game . . . Chad Olson had 20 points, Todd Jackson 12, Shawn Stene 11 and Jesse James 9 in a 59-44 win over Christ's Household of Faith.

Dec. 7 2000 — Princeton (1-2) beat St. Francis 4-2 in boys hockey as Matt Alexander scored two goals . . . The girls hockey team (4-3) beat Proctor 4-1 as Ryane Miller scored two goals and beat Moose Lake/Willow River 7-1 as Katy Finstrom (four goals and an assist) had a "pure" hat trick, scoring 12 seconds into the game and getting the next two Tiger goals in the first period.

Dec. 15, 2005 — The boys basketball team began the season 2-1 with a 60-51 win over Chisago Lakes, a 63-43 loss to St.Cloud Tech, and a 83-47 win over Zimmerman. Scott Roehl had 24 points in the Chisago Lakes game, 13 against Tech, and 14 points and 13 rebounds against Zimmerman to run his career total to 849 points . . . Sam Olson, Susan Dalchow and Emily Dehn won events as the gymnastics team scored 120.625 in a win over Maple Lake.

Dec. 16, 2010 — The girls basketball team beat Sauk Rapids 70-47 as Mariah Clarin led with 20 points. Kadie Savage had 17, Brooke Karst 13 and Becca Hass 11 points and 14 rebounds  . . . Joss Jondahl had 21 points as the boys basketball team beat  Sauk Rapids 77-60. Jake Wood had19 points and John Jedneak 16 points and 14 rebounds.

Dec. 10 2015 — Reed Mitchell scored 25 points in a boys basketball 78-75 win over Hermantown and Allen Lindner had 16 . . . In the other half of the doubleheader the girls team beat Hermantown 50-36 as Andie Jackson had 14 points and Julia Bjurman 11 . . . Kallie Abrahamson had two goals as the girls hockey team (5-4, 1-2 in the M8) beat St. Francis 5-1.

(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the area for the past 53 years.) 


Vikings  have us hoping again

The undefeated starts of the U of M's men's hockey team (8-0) and the men's basketball team (6-0) have been sort of lost among the general public as the Minnesota Vikings have risen to the lofty record of 6-6 and gotten back into the playoff discussion after a scrambling 27-24 win last Sunday over hapless Jacksonville (1-11). The talk among a great many Minnesota sports fans is about the Vikings getting to .500 after a 1-5 start, not so much about the U of M teams.

The combined records of the five teams Minnesota lost in those first six games is 39-21 (.650) and I think that has been overlooked. The combined records of the five teams the Vikings have beaten in their last six games is is 24-36 (.400), and that includes a win over Green Bay (9-3)  Maybe those records tell us all we need to know about a season record of 6-6. Still, if the defense had been better, the record could easily be  8-4 or 9-3, the defense failing miserably in those early losses, including two one-pointers.

As things stand today, two days before meeting Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Bucs (7-5) on Sunday, the defense has given up more points than 24 of the NFL's 30 teams, while the offenses is a decent 10th in points among the 30 teams. That lack of defense was never more evident than in the win over Jacksonville last Sunday when the Jags drove 75 yards to tie the score with 1:06  left in the game. The defense looked helpless.

Meanwhile, quarterback Kirk Cousins has been brilliant in the recent 5-1 run. He threw three touchdown passes last Sunday to end drives of 78, 75 and 90 yards, and the week before against Carolina he was nearly perfect in the fourth quarter (12 of 13) as the Vikings rallied to a one-point win. He has complied 71% of his passes in the last six games, thrown for 15 touchdowns (3 each in 4 of the games) with only 2 interceptions, and had more than 300 yards in each of the last three games. His quarterback rating for the fourth quarter leads the NFL. In the win over Carolina two weeks ago he completed 34 passes and, even without Adam Thielen, had four receivers with 7 catches each for 50 yards or more - that's only the second that has EVER happened in the NFL.

After the overtime win last Sunday if you listened the the KFAN call-in show, you'd think the Vikings had lost, fans and the show's hosts doing lots of criticizing. I see Tampa Bay is favored by about a touchdown for Sunday's game. The three opponents after that are Chicago, New Orleans and Detroit. The Vikings likely need to go 3-1 to make the playoffs. That makes the Tampa Bay game almost a must win. The Vikings shouldn't be in that predicament but the defense has put them there and it may be too much to overcome.


 MEMORY LANE

(Note: Memory Lane will be run once every month with items from that month's editions of the Princeton Union and Princeton Union-Eagle of  25, 50, 75, 100 and 125 years ago.) 

December, 1995 — Flu and other respiratory problems hit the Princeton school district last weekend  and there were nearly 500 absentees one day and 425 the next . . . Princeton's population grew from 3,719 to 3,820 from 1990 to 1994, a 2.64% growth.  

A dispute in the negotiations for a contract with the 110 educational service assistants, custodians and secretaries in the Princeton school district seems to have escalated. The contract expired 18 months ago and a two-year contract needs to be finalized for the previous school year and this school year . . . Headline: Former train depot undergoing restoration. Historical society making changes after taking over building.

Outside the school district office school board members faced picketing school district employees of Local 284 as board members headed to the Tuesday meeting. Employees carried placards that read "Management Unfair to Local 284." . . . In work-to-rule action by teachers, teachers were working only from 7:15 to 3:15 each day. Teacher contract negotiations, like for aides, janitors and secretaries, are also bogged down in mediation and the teacher union implemented the work-to-rule.

December, 1970 — Soloists Jean Kornmann, Bob Souer, Don Warner, Mark Preble and Mark Letich will be featured in the high school choir's annual Christmas concert at the junior high on Dec. 13 . . . Don McAlpine and Mary Dorr, 1968 PHS grads, are members of the University of Minnesota Chorus that will sing in the annual Christmas Festival performance of Handel's Messiah on Dec. 17 at Northrop Memorial Auditorium.

Da Nang,Vietnam - Three nights weekly four Marines volunteer their off-duty hours to teach English to Vietnamese students. Lance Corporal Robert G. Prescott Jr of Princeton is one of them . . . Princeton Junior High students collected money to be used for Christmas toys and gifts for youngsters at the Cambridge State Hospital. The drive totaled $323.13.

The new banquet and private dining facilities at Sanborn's Cafe in downtown Princeton were opened to the public last week. The new dining facility was doubled in size. Remodeling included new wall paneling, carpeting, chairs and tables, and a mock fireplace. (Editor's note: At that time Sanbon's was located immediately adjacent to K-Bob Cafe and K-Bob owners later purchased Sanborn's and turned the two facilities into one restaurant.)

Winners in the Jaycees Christmas lighting contest were Mr. and Mrs. Arnold Haehn for overall display and Mr. and Mrs. Al Provo for religious display. Each winner received $10.

December, 1945 — A meeting is to be held at the Princeton armory at 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon to organize a post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The nearest post of this organization at present is the Clarence Stowe post at Glendorado, of which some of the residents of Princeton are members. 

Members of the Legion Auxiliary this year are joining in the custom which Girl Scouts have maintained in the village for a number of years, the singing of Christmas carols. The group will sing to persons who are confined to their homes with illness, at the Ellim Home and also downtown.

The entire Northwest was virtually snowbound Christmas Day. In the Twin Cities the snow was approximately 14 inches deep. Farther north the snowfall was less, about eight inches in the region of Princeton.

National Guard Company G of Princeton is sponsoring the New Year's dance to be given at the armory next Monday evening. Music will be furnished by Peterson's six-piece Rhythm Kings. The boys deserve a generous patronage, which they certainly should receive from the public.

December,1920 — The body of Lisle Neely. who died in a Minneapolis hospital on Saturday at 6 p.m. from the effects of a bullet wound in the abdomen inflicted by a bandit at 9:15 that morning, was brought to Princeton on Monday evening for interment.Lisle was the son of Mr.and Mrs. George Neely of this village . . . Steps are begin taken to organize a women's auxiliary of the local post of the American Legion. Women interested are to call Mrs. H.R. Mallette.

The Legion dance on Friday was poorly patronized and the receipts were about $35 less than the expenses incurred . . . Between 9 and 10 o'clock last night fire was discovered at the Gramer Hardware store and before it could be subdued the stock was practically ruined. The fire originated from the furnace in the basement.

Miss Joyce Petterson returned from Smith College last Thursday evening to spend the holidays at her home. Severt Petterson, who is taking a postgraduate course at Harvard, is also home for the holidays.

December, 1895 — Thanksgiving was very generally observed in Princeton. All the stores closed at 1 o'clock and the proprietors and their assistants remained with their families for the rest of the day . . . Princeton is favored by having an experienced teacher in voice culture, Miss Frankie Spaulding of Minneapolis, who has secured a class and will begin her work very soon.

Mr. Gadboy had a valuable colt hooked by a heifer Sunday. E. Grand was called to dehorn the animal Monday . . . Old Glory floats from the staff at the schoolhouse every day now . . . Princeton placed second in the district declamatory contest at Elk River on Friday. Our school was represented by Miss Daisy Farrington and Clement Howard.

With this issue the Union enters its twentieth year.

The Eastern which left here at 5 o'clock Friday afternoon met with an accident between Elk River and Anoka in which the engine lost its smoke stack and the steps were knocked off a couple cars.

G. W. McFarlane of Greenbush Township has just finished his threshing and reports an excellent yield. He had 5 1/2 acres of wheat which yielded 32 1/2 bushels per acre; 6 1/2 acres of rye and oats mixed, which yielded 34 bushels per acre; and 18 acres of oats, which yielded 85 bushels an acre.

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