2 February 1990

Dear Friends-and-Relations,

The three aliens from outer space had landed unobserved somewhere near Lake Wobegon. Using their plastic surgery skills and their advanced communication technology, they now looked and talked like typical earthlings. But before venturing out on their fact-finding mission to earth, they had to study earth’s customs, so that they would not make an egregious blunder and betray themselves.

The concept of annual holidays was causing them particular difficulty. Their home planet had a rotation period of 300 of our earth years. Since their individual life span was comparable to ours, this meant that no individual ever came close to seeing the same “date” twice in his or her lifetime. Thus, they had no reason to celebrate an event based on the repetition of the particular planetary position in its rotation cycle.

Jens (they had adopted names to be inconspicious in the Lake Wobegon area, but their speech was standard U. S. Television), the youngest, said, ‘Tm having trouble remembering what Easter is. I think it’s the one in November where the whole family gets together and eats lots of turkey and cranberries and potatoes and minced pie, but I’m not sure.”

The middle alien, Inga disagreed. “I don’t think so. I think Easter is the one in December where they bring a big pine tree in the house and put lights and decorations on it and everybody has lots of presents under it.”

Ole, the leader, corrected them both. “Jens, you’re thinking of Labor Day. You can remember that one because it’s a lot of labor preparing those big meals. Inga, the one you described is called Thanksgiving because everyone is thankful for all the presents they get.”

“No, Easter is the day in February that Jesus comes out of the ground three days after he was buried, and if he sees his shadow he goes back in his tomb and we have six more weeks of winter!”


This has been a year of joy and sadness; of life and of death. On May 31 my niece Maia Frantz died of cancer. It is always sad when a loved one dies, but at my age one can accept the passing of the older generation, even one’s own parents, as part of the natural order of things. Indeed, one even learns to accept the dying of members of one’s own generation. But there is a sense of outrage at the death of a child of my sister; a young woman barely half my age.

For those of you who knew Maia there is no need for me to try to tell you about the kind of person she was. And for those who didn’t, I am sure that no words of mine can convey the aura of vitality and happiness which she shared with all with whom she came in contact. I suspect that she did more living in the 35 years allotted to her than many of us do in a full three score and ten.

Although a time of sadness, it was also a time of unity. In the five months left after the first diagnosis many of us were able to pay a visit to Maia in Boulder, Colorado. And I was one of many relatives who came there again for the Memorial Meeting which the Friends held for her after her death. That was a truly beautiful experience. There was such a sharing of the memories all of us had: the good, the lovely, the humorous, the trivial; incidents of which the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. The emphasis was so much on what we had all gained by knowing Maia in her life rather than on what we had lost in her death; and it all seemed natural and genuine. For one of the very few times in my life I felt that maybe I was missing something in not being part of any formal religion.

But – – – – – life goes on, and life begins anew. One of the new beginnings is that of Adam Hodge Greenberg, born December 23, 1989. You may recall the troubles our daughter Sue had two years ago when she tried to produce our third grandchild. Well, I am happy to report that Adam has all his chromosones in the right places, and that all of his parts are in fine functioning order. When last heard from he had decided that the days were for sleeping and the nights were for eating, but Sue is confident that she can turn that around. April at nearly 13 and Miriam at 9 are old enough to feel only a proud possessiveness over their baby brother; taking care of him is one more aspect of their sibling rivalry. Thea and I are hoping to see him before too much longer.

And that’s not all. I reported previously that our younger daughter Lisa and husband Bill had just about given up hope of having their own child and were seriously considering the relative merits of adoption or a child-free life. Well, that script has been completely rewritten. Lisa is now seven months pregnant and beaming. We visited them in December, and “beaming” is the only word in the English language which can describe Lisa. Bill’s expression when he looks at Lisa+ is not so easy to describe: sort of a mix between love and adoration and “look what I’ve done” and ”I’m too young to be a father.” But Lisa is beaming – or did I say that already?

At the end of the summer Thea and I took a two-plus week trip East. We started off conventionally with a commercial flight to Pittsburgh, where son Phil met us and drove us to his home in nearby Beaver, PA. After a few fun days there, we took off from the Beaver airport in Phil’s very own Cessna Archer four-seater airplane; “we” being Thea, myself, Phil, and Phil’s newest lady-friend Margie whom we met for the first time. We flew to Glens Falls, New York (with one intermediate stop to refuel the plane and defuel our bladders) where I met for the first time my first-cousin-once-removed Ann Bekos. We had corresponded quite a bit over a common interest in our mutual genealogy, but this was the first time I had met her or her family. Her husband Dean owns the best restaurant in Glens Falls, and we all had a lovely dinner there. An unexpected added bonus to that trip was that Ann’s mother, Mary Jane Howard whom I hadn’t seen in over twenty years was there at the same time with her husband Johnny. Mary Jane’s mother was my father’s sister, in case any of you are keeping score. They are all delightful people, and we all had a wonderful time.

But the day wasn’t through. After dinner we reboarded Phil’s plane and flew the sixty or so miles to Rutland, Vermont where lives my first cousin on my mother’s side, Sue Darrow and husband Bob. We’ve seen them frequently over the years, and every visit seems more enjoyable than the last. After an all-too-few days visit with them our logistics got a bit more complicated as first we put Thea on a commercial plane for San Francisco and a visit with Lisa and Bill, then Phil, Margie, and I flew to Teeterboro airport in New Jersey to see Sue and family in nearby Teaneck. Late that night Phil and Margie returned to Beaver in the Archer, a couple of days later I consorted with ordinary fliers on a commercial flight to Minneapolis, and in due course Thea rejoined me there.

Thea and I are in a countdown stage towards retirement. After the current quarter is over next month, I have only four more quarters of teaching to look forward to. We keep saying to each other, “We really should sit down and make some decisions about what to do when we retire.” Maybe we will actually do it this year; or at least this decade!

Thea again wants her own page, so I will sign off now. To all of you in the coming year and decade, may your joys outweigh your sorrows, and may your plans bring you the happiness which we confidently expect ours will when we make them.

ps. If any of you are wondering about the last two lines in fine print in our letterhead, they are our internet electronic mail addresses; Phil’s on the first line and Thea’s on the second. If you know what we’re talking about, you might let us know yours; if you don’t know what we’re talking about, don’t worry about it.

Phil said that he has only 4 more quarters of teaching to look forward to. That delimits our professional life, since I will retire when he does in June 1991. I’m not sure what I think of that date being so close. We’ve talked a lot with two friends who took advantage of opportunities for early retirement: Andy Ungar, a good friend from early Chicago days, and Martin Huff, a college friend of lo-these-many-years and almost a cousin. Both have done varied and creative things, as has Marge Hill of CDC who retired 15 years ago and is still traveling and busy in her community. We also hear good reports from Wil McKeehan. We can’t predict or completely control our future health but we can plan to take advantage of whatever good health and fortune we find. As we plan, and our future life takes on some possible shape, I may come to feel better about it and less as tho’ I were venturing out in a canoe without a paddle! It’s true that I retired once, in January of 1987, but I knew before I walked out of my Cray office for the last time that I was going to a new office at the University of Minnesota two weeks later. That was not really a test of what retirement is like. I think that this time it will be the real thing.

The past year at the University has been even more unnerving than the previous two years but a lot more successful. We received two major “chairs” in the department and permission to recruit also for two or three other professorships. The computer industry has not been in good shape in Minnesota this year; we were extraordinarily fortunate to be given the funds for the chairs. I doubt anyone will be giving out million-dollar gifts in the coming year.

I took piano lessons during the year, mostly theory, which I had never had before. This quarter, instead of studying piano, I am auditing a graduate course in the computer generation of music, from the computer scientist’s point of view. I am also a course in German genealogy. I spend 3/5 to 3/4 of my time in the office. Adding all of these activities to a busy social life, the day is pretty short.

The day is pretty dark, too. Minnesota in winter has mostly bright days but the sun rises late and sets early. Spring will be very welcome, as always.

Good wishes to all of you for a bright and cheerful year ahead.