Last summer Redwood Falls High School's only Rhodes Scholar, Michael Frederickson, came back to town to celebrate the Class of 1963's 50th reunion; in the years since graduating Frederickson has bummed around the world, run a30-acre subsistence farm on New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy for five years, taught medieval literature, started a singing telegram business, and written three novels....
Last summer, Redwood Falls High School's only Rhodes Scholar, Michael Frederickson came back to town to celebrate the Class of 1963's 50th reunion.
In the years since graduating Frederickson has bummed around the world, run a30-acre subsistence farm on New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy for five years, taught medieval literature, started a singing telegram business, and written three novels.
He is currently General Counsel of the Board of Bar Overseers in Boston, Massachusetts, the state agency that deals with ethical complaints against lawyers in that state.
We email chatted with Frederickson earlier this month for an update.
• What did you want to be when you grew up? What were you like as a kid in Redwood Falls?
"Until about 9th grade I wanted to be a scientist of some kind. I liked dinosaurs and I became a ham radio operator when I was in the fifth grade. A nerd, in other words.
"To get my radio license, I remember having to take a test on electronics that asked about Ohm's Law, which required me to memorize its permutations because I didn't hadn't taken any algebra yet. I loved taking radios apart and trying to figure out how they worked.
"Then I discovered politics and got very interested in that, and by the time I was a junior I had decided to become a lawyer, and I became less of a nerd and more interested in high school activities like student government, debate, and extemporaneous speech contests.
"I played football and baseball, but I was a less than mediocre athlete. I loved hunting."
• Who and what in Redwood Falls impacted the way you look at the world, both A) as a student in Europe and B) now?
(Frederickson described visiting his RFHS English teacher, Mrs. Sales, to show her his first novel.)
"I took it to her house – she lived in one of those senior housing units they erected on the sight of the razed schoolhouse I spent 13 years in, and I would swear her apartment was on the very site of her classroom, but that's probably unlikely.
"Anyway, I have her a copy of the book and told her she was the best teacher I ever had anywhere – Macalester, Oxford, Harvard, whatever.
"She thanked me, opened the book, and said, "There's a misplaced apostrophe here."
"I assured her that it was a misprint: after scaring me in the eighth grade on precisely that subject, I know I have not misplaced an apostrophe since leaving her classroom at the end of that year.
"She was a great teacher. Thanks to her, I believe I knew more grammar after that year with her than any high school English teacher I had....
"And yes, I'm a grammar Nazi.
• What was life in Swinging 60s London like?
"I was there from September 1967 to May 1969.
"Oxford wasn't nearly as swinging as London. Oxford was cold and damp, the nightlife dreary, and food in college was so bad they would fine you for missing too many meals.
"Someone – Anatole France, perhaps? – once said that the best thing about the English countryside is that the English can't cook it. But studying English literature there was quite wonderful."
• When you were chosen to be a Rhodes scholar you had already traveled in Yugoslavia and hitchhiked across Europe. Where else have you traveled? Is there any place you haven't visited yet but hope to?
"My wife and I traveled in India and Nepal for about 8 weeks in the fall of 1983, we have visited Europe on numerous occasions since then, and we traveled in Turkey about a year and a half ago.
"In August of 2012 we went on a safari to Tanzania, which was quite wonderful.
"We are scheduled to travel to Murimar (sp? – whatever they're calling Burma these days), Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Thailand for about a month on December 4."
• You noted in a 1968 letter to the Gazette that life abroad was already changing your attitudes about American life. How did you see the U.S. different once you returned?
"Well, I went from England to Toronto because I had sent my draft card to the Redwood county draft board and told them to keep it sometime around the Tet offensive.
"They proceeded to draft me, and when I failed to appear for induction, I was indicted.
"In about a year or two the Supreme Court ruled that while the government could arrest people who refused to carry draft cards, it couldn't draft them for that: courts, not draft boards, mete out punishment for such a refusal.
By then Nixon had become president and instituted the draft lottery, and the government decided not to indict those who were refusing to carry cards and instead just go after those who refused induction if the lottery scooped them up.
"It turned out my lottery number was 355 out of 357, and the whole issue disappeared.
"I was still angry enough to stay in Canada for another 7 or 8 years.
"I did some graduate school work in English, taught English for two years at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada, and then became something of a hippie farmer in New Brunswick for about five years.
"During that time I worked as an auto mechanic (I was worse than terrible at it) for a couple years, did some extension teaching, and cut and sold pulpwood off my woodlot.
"I didn't return to the US until 1977, when my wife and I split up.
"That was when I started singing and playing guitar in coffee houses and bars and started the singing telegram business (I delivered about 2000 of them) that put me through law school, from which I graduated in 1982."
(When writing and performing singing telegrams, Frederickson once had to sing a birthday greeting to a goldfish, and was once asked to wake up a newlywed couple the day after their wedding to sing good morning wishes.)
• Your early goal was to be a scholar of literature. Were you interested in writing at that point? Do you have any writing projects in progress now?
"I had fantasies about writing, but I did not believe I had the ability to write fiction. I thought I lacked both the ingenuity and the ability to write good prose.
"Later on, writing doggerel for 2000 singing telegrams led me to suspect I might actually have some ingenuity.
"And later still, I realized I had been building something of a reputation as a good writer as a lawyer.
"So I began to steal time to block out the story that became my first novel, A Cinderella Affidavit.
"I didn't tell anyone I was doing this because I was convinced it was junk, but I did realize that I'd had this fantasy for a long time and I did not want to turn 70 and wonder if I could have done it.
"So you might say I did it just so I wouldn't look back with regret and wonder. Then, for reasons I can't explain, it became fun and I found myself stealing away to it, like a mistress.
"I'm now at work on number 4, though I've not written anything in the last few months. A fallow period, I tell myself. Hoping I'll get back to it."
"I am blessed with a beautiful wife, a psychologist named Jolly, and a 21-year-old son named Zeke."
• Since leaving school, you've done such a wide variety of activities: farming, teaching, singing telegrams, attorney, novelist. What haven't you jumped into yet that you still hope to?