a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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My wife was standing on the front porch when I pulled into the driveway coming home from a road trip. I was honking my horn with my left arm stretched out the driver's side window, waving. Melissa waved back, but not with the same enthusiasm I did. "Where are you going to put that," she wanted to know.
I was towing a 19' Scamp trailer behind the truck. "I'll park it out back," I replied.
"With the other seven Scamps," she asked. I wasn't sure if it was sarcasm or concern, but her voice had a different tone.
"Honey, there are only six Scamps back there, and besides, I got a terrific deal on it," I assured her. "Come down and check it out!"
Melissa walked down the path to the driveway and looked around inside the trailer. "It is pretty cool," she admitted, "but I think you need an intervention."
"I need an intervention?" I questioned, "And just how many dining room tables have we owned since I met you?"
"That's different," she said and turned toward the house. You might say I "turned the tables," diverting the conversation from my Scamp collection. But instead, it caused me to think and try to count how many tables we have owned.
When we were dating, Melissa lived in a small farmhouse in the country. She had a seventies-style round table and mismatched chairs. The table was used and not worth much, but it was a special table.
At that table, we ate the first dinner Melissa cooked for me; she made meatloaf, steamed veggies, and mac & cheese. After dinner, she surprised me with a homemade apple pie. That dinner has become a favorite meal of mine. (Except now, I bake the pies for her.)
While she lived in that house, Melissa bought a green metal ice cream table. The top and chairs were wire mesh, and the seats had flowers embossed in the back. I called it an ice cream table. "It's not an ice cream table; it's just a patio table," she said.
After about a year, she moved to a different place. The ice cream table moved with her to the new deck, but the kitchen table did not make the move. Instead, she bought a small bistro set with a dark, wood slat top and matching chairs. We enjoyed many meals at that small table. The next move was to Winona, Minnesota. Again, the ice cream and bistro tables went along.
In Winona, we were looking for a house. I always look for a home with a formal dining room, as I love having family and friends for dinner. We bought the Baker Street house. It had a large formal dining room with a bay window on the south wall. Once remodeled, I thought it was the prettiest in our home, with the best natural lighting. I could hardly wait to have company for dinner. Unfortunately, the thirty-inch round bistro table looked pathetically small in the big room. So, Melissa began the search for a different table.
We like antiques, and Melissa found a gorgeous antique table across the Mississippi River in Wisconsin. We went to look at it. The heavy table seemed massive yet elegant with claw feet. It would have fit in our dining room, but we decided to pass. "It's a beautiful table," Melissa told the lady. "But it's too fancy for our craftsman-style home."
The lady said, "We're selling this table, too, if you're interested." The second table was simpler, a 1920s-era dining room table. It was dark brown mahogany and came with six matching chairs, one with armrests for the head of the table. I liked that. It was in very good condition; the only thing we didn't like about the table was the grey vinyl seat tops – but those are easy to change. So, we asked for the price.
"Well," the lady explained, "this our everyday table. We had it refinished twenty years ago, and the chair legs could stand to be reglued." Then, she thought for a moment, "I'd like to get $125." I tried not to act shocked, but I thought she would ask at least three times that amount. We wanted the table.
"If we go ahead and pay you now, can you hold it until next week," I asked?
"I'll tell you what; I'll let it go for a hundred if you can take it today." The lady wanted the table gone to make way for a new set to be delivered Monday. Unfortunately, it wouldn't fit in my Subaru. "You can use our old plow truck to move it home," she offered. The deal was getting better all the time. She even loaned us moving blankets to protect the wood finish and tie-down straps. We paid for the table and were soon on our way in a borrowed truck.
The table was the right style, color, and size. It looked beautiful in our Baker Street dining room. (Except for the grey vinyl cushions)
We sold the Baker Street house a few years later to move back to Ottumwa. The ice cream, bistro, and mahogany tables went with us.
In Ottumwa, we lived in an apartment while looking for a house. We put the three tables in storage. In the meantime, Melissa found a small antique drop-leaf table with four matching chairs. "We don't need another table," I protested as we walked out the door to pick it up. The four chairs were in good shape, but the table was not. So I brought my Grammy's table from storage and placed it in the dining room, with the antique chairs around it.
I remember sitting at that table in Grammy's kitchen in Mason City, Iowa. There were a few metal stools around the table, but I liked sitting against the wall. Grammy put blankets and woven throw rugs on top of the cast iron radiator so two or three little kids could sit there. It was always warm in the winter.
Grammy's table is about thirty inches wide and four-feet long. Each end of the table pulls out to extend the length. It's a light wood color, although I don't know what species. The tabletop has a stain from a wire coat hanger and another water ring from a glass. Grammy gave the table to Mom, and I got the table after Mom passed away. I never knew why the table didn't have any matching chairs.
One day, years later, while visiting my aunt Sally in Pennsylvania, we talked about that table. I asked about the chairs: "Mom always wanted a nice dining room table; she'd never owned a new one. One day, my dad got a good size bonus check from work," Sally told me. "Mom sent him to buy a nice table for their formal dining room. Mom was furious when Dad came home with that little-used table and four chairs for a family of seven. She threw such a fit of rage she started smashing the chairs.
"Well, Dad went out and promptly returned with a beautiful, brand new, expensive dining room table with four leaves, eight chairs, and a matching buffet." We shared a good laugh over that story. I remembered eating many meals at that big table, too.
"Since Mom had broken three of the four chairs, Dad couldn't return the table to the second-hand shop, so it went into the kitchen." Sally thought, "You know, I still have that last chair up in the attic. Would you like it?" So, I retrieved the chair and baked aunt Sally a fresh cherry pie to show my appreciation.
Melissa and I didn't stay in the apartment long before we bought the Albany Street house (another old craftsman home), and the remodeling began.
The mahogany table looked awesome in the finished Albany dining room. The bistro table fit perfectly on the enclosed front porch, and the green ice cream table went on the back deck.
The back deck was huge, so Melissa bought another outdoor table and six chairs for summer evenings when we had friends over to cook out. We spent many nights around those tables with family and friends, enjoying good food and life. Then one day, Melissa came to talk to me.
"There’s a sale this Saturday; some people are downsizing their house," she said. I knew something was coming. "They're selling a round oak dining room table, which would look reallsy good in our house.
I protested, "But what about the table we have now? I like this table."
"The round oak table will look even better," she promised. "Just come with me and look at it, please?" I agreed to go with her – but just to look.
It was indeed an attractive table and came with five similarly matched chairs; all oak, school teachers' chairs, I called them. The table looked great in our dining room.
I advertised the mahogany table and six matching chairs with grey vinyl seat tops. Despite not changing the fabric, the set sold right away for $350. It was like a new chapter in our lives.
Our next move was to Silver Bay, Minnesota. The round antique oak and the ice cream table came with us. Before moving, we sold the large outdoor table, the bistro table, and the chairs.
Our new house had an eat-in kitchen but no dining room. The house required a complete remodel. We planned to move several walls, finish the basement, add a three-seasons room, extend the house by eight feet, and add a formal dining room. Our furniture went into storage during the construction. Fortunately, the house had a large round kitchen table and five fifties-style metal chairs covered in vinyl with yellow flowers. It was our new table for the next several months. Then one day, Melissa came to talk to me.
"I think we should look for a different style table for our dining room," she said. Then she showed me an ad for a large rectangular table with an inlaid, parquet-style walnut top. It looked very cool. The table came with eight big upholstered chairs. I didn't care for the fabric, but that's easy to change. So, we drove down to the twin cities, bought the table, brought it home, and put it in storage.
As the dining room was closer to being finished, I realized that the new table and chairs were too big for the room. So, we advertised and sold the table before it was ever in the house.
I built a corner in the kitchen for a small table and chairs; I was thinking of putting Grammy's table in the kitchen. "I want to get an oak table, booth, and bench for this corner," Melissa said and showed me an advertisement. The set looks and fits great in our kitchen. Grammy's table went in the three-seasons room, in front of a big picture window overlooking the backyard.
The ice cream table went on the new deck; Melissa found a matching glider. The people also had another identical patio table set, so we bought it because there was room on the deck for two. I brought the round antique table from storage and put it in the dining room. I could tell from the look on my wife's face we were going to get a different table.
"I found this Pottery Barn trestle table in the cities," she said, "It's in excellent condition and reasonably priced. It won't last long, and I already have a buyer for our round table." So, I called the man in Minneapolis, who agreed to hold the table until we arrived.
The set had a bench and two chairs, but we needed more. "They still sell this table new; we can order two more chairs," she said.
The trestle set complimented our room nicely and the people who bought our round table, loved it! Finally, I thought we had bought our last table; but I thought wrong.
Melissa showed me an ad, "Look at this. It's a Barley Twist, English oak pub table, with four matching chairs." I questioned why we needed it. "You rarely see a table like this with the original chairs; this is an excellent buy!" The table was very cool. It was in our dining room corner for about a year before she sold it for a handsome profit. Then one day, Melissa came to talk to me.
"I am not driving to the twin cities to buy another table," I told her.
"Uncle Kenny and aunt Gail want to give us an antique round oak table," Melissa said.
I rebutted, "We had an antique round oak table, and we sold it to get this trestle table."
"Yes," she said. "But this table belonged to my great aunt and uncle. So, it's been in our family for generations. It's a little smaller, so we'd have more space in the dining room, and it has six chairs and two leaves we can put in when we need a bigger table for company." So, we began the journey to Austin, Texas.
Kenny had the top wrapped well in a heavy blue quilted moving blanket. After we loaded the table and chairs into the van, he handed me a piece of loose wood. "This goes on the leg right here," he showed me.
"When we had guests over for dinner, someone would inevitably bump the piece, and it would fall on the floor. I would say, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe you broke my uncle's antique table!'" Kenny was laughing as he told the story. "We had so much fun with this gag over the years I decided not to glue the piece back in place. I had already decided we would not glue the piece to the leg either. The table looks terrific in our dining room.
There's a special feeling when gathering at a table that's been in the family for generations. So someday, I'll give Grammy's table to one of our daughters, with the stipulation it must stay in the family forever, and if they refinish the table, they have to preserve the hanger mark and water ring!
In all, Melissa has bought fourteen different tables since I met her. But these are not just tables; they are a collection of stories and history of our family and friends gathered for holidays, birthdays, a celebration of new life, and sometimes someone's passing. They hold happy memories and times when tears fell. I guess that's why I always want our house to have a formal dining room – a place where memories are made.
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My daughter's family recently bought a house on the outskirts of Duluth. My two granddaughters, Addison and Evelyn, were excited to tell me about it. In addition to bigger bedrooms, it has a huge yard "and a magic forest," Addie claimed, speaking of the wooded area.
“Papa, our new yard has five apple trees," Evelyn was excited to share. "We can pick some apples, and you can make apple pie."
I'll admit to being rather particular (snobbish, actually) when it comes to the apples I use for pie. Granny Smiths are always my preference. I like the tart flavor, and they don't get mushy like some other varieties do when baked. But Evelyn tugged my heartstrings the day she was born.
If Evelyn wants apple pie made with her apples, then that's what we'll use – no matter the variety. As long as they're not road apples. That might sound silly, but this is the prankster who, at four years old, pulled a rubber chicken out of her coat, shook it in my face, and cracked up laughing! I proceed with caution. Moving day was still six weeks away. I wasn't even sure if they'd have apples left by then.
When moving day came, there was plenty of strong help and vehicles. The crew quickly moved a family of four and two cats, across town.
After the work was done, we had a feast of pizza. Then, the kids gave us a tour of the property. It was the first time I had noticed the apple tree next to the house; it was thick with bright red orbs. "Wow, that tree is really loaded with apples," I said. "Have you tried them? Are they any good?" Sydney said they were.
The apples were pretty well-thinned out lower on the tree; Sydney said the deer were eating them. "It's not just deer," I said, pointing to the ground, and laughing. "That's bear poop."
Sydney seemed a bit alarmed. "Bears are coming this close to the house?"
"Of course, they are," I said. "You have a tree full of apples, and bears love them." I smiled at my daughter, "Welcome to country living in northern Minnesota, kid!" I reached up into the tree to grab an apple.
I polished the apple on my shirt, and took a bite. It was so crisp; it snapped with each bite. "This is a really good apple," I said. I finished eating the apple and chucked the core off into the tall grass on the yard's edge. Then I picked another, rubbing it on my shirt.
The flavor was sweet but a little tart; the texture was perfect. I was trying to identify the variety. I asked my daughter if she knew, but she did not. Finally, halfway through the second apple, I figured it out. "Oh my, these are Honeycrisp apples!"
"Is that good," Sydney asked.
"Good? It's awesome! I think they're the best apple for eating," I answered, "and Honeycrisp are usually the most expensive apples at the store." I looked at the tree again. Some branches bent over from the weight of so many apples, especially toward the top, where the deer and the bears couldn't reach them. “You should pick the apples and sell them," I suggested. But, when you've just moved a family of four to a new house and still don't know where anything is, picking apples is not a priority. I picked a dozen apples to take home with me.
The following Friday, we brought a big pot of chili to their house. After supper, I presented an apple pie. (Of course, I brought the ice cream, too.) Everyone loved the apple pie. "Are these apples from our tree," Sydney asked. I told her they were, indeed. "This is really good," she said! "But I thought you always used Granny Smith Apples?"
"I do use Granny Smiths," I said. "Honeycrisps also make an excellent pie, but who wants to pay the price?"
A few days later, with my apple picker, I went to their house to pick apples with my granddaughters. Addison took an apple from my box, "Papa, this one is no good. The birds have been eating this apple," she said, showing me the marks. We took the bad apple into the house.
In the kitchen I washed the apple, cut out the bad spots, and cut it into slices. The three of us ate the bad apple. "See, we can still use the apples even if the birds pecked at them." Then we went back to the apple tree.
The girls gathered apples that fell to the ground, while I used the picker to reach into the tree. "Ev picked up an apple, wrinkled her face, and showed me. "Papa, I think a bird pooped on this one."
"Birds will do that," I said with a smile. "It will wash off and be fine; go ahead and put it in the box." We kept working until we’d picked all the apples I could reach. "I need a longer pole to get the top apples," I said. With nearly a bushel of apples; that was enough.
When I got home, I realized I had way too many apples. So I kept what I could use and gave the rest to a friend. Lana and I had the same intentions; applesauce!
Lana peeled and cored her apples before cooking them. "It took hours, over a few days," she said. I used Mom’s method.
I washed and quartered the apples. Then, tossed the pieces, seeds, skins, stems, husks, and all, into a pot. I put several cinnamon sticks and some nutmeg in the pot, too. Adding a cup or two of water, I covered the pot and cooked the apples until they were mush. The pot needs to be stirred often to prevent the apples from burning on the bottom. It takes about forty minutes to thoroughly cook the apples down.
While the apples cooked, I got our vintage green Cosco stool, pulled the steps out, then climbed up to the cabinet above the refrigerator. I had to shuffle through several items. (Bottles of wine and hooch.) There it was in the back of the cabinet; my antique colander and pestle. I pulled it out.
The aluminum colander is cone-shaped, with a handle on the top side. It sits in a three-legged stand. The top of the wooden pestle has a ball to use as a grip. Next, I pulled out my turkey roaster from the very back of the bottom corner cabinet.
I set the colander assembly in the turkey pan, then scooped two cups of apple mush into the hopper. Instead of holding the grip, I rolled the ball against palm of my hand, making a circular motion with the pestle inside the cone. The wooden shaft rolled the apple mixture, pressing it through the tiny holes.
The turkey pan catches the applesauce as it runs outside the cone. The colander works like a sieve, capturing all the skins, seeds, stems, and husks. I ended up with three gallons of perfectly smooth apple sauce. I hadn't made a large batch like this for probably thirty years! "What will I do with all this applesauce," I wondered? "I don't have that much room in the freezer - I know, I'll can it!"
With the green Cosco stool, I retrieved my pressure cooker from the top shelf of the pantry. Of course, I hadn't done any canning for thirty years either – but canning is like riding a bike; you never forget, right?
I had everything ready to start the canning process. Oops. Having not canned anything for thirty years, I no longer own canning jars! Not a problem.
When I was a kid, Mom would save empty jars for canning. Mayonnaise, peanut butter, jelly; any jar would work, so long as the canning lids fit. But, of course, when I was a kid, all these products came in glass jars. You just can't use plastic jars in a canner. Now, I'll try anything once, but not that. "Hey," I had a thought. "People have given me various home-canned goods; I still have those jars."
I shuffled through the cabinets, finding nine jars with lids and rings. Some were pints, and others were half-pint jars. I know you're not supposed to reuse canning lids, but I didn't have any new ones. Besides, growing up, money was tight; Mom sometimes reused them. "You have to check each jar, whether it's a new or used lid, to make sure they sealed properly," she would say. So, I had nothing to lose. In a worst-case scenario, the lids would not seal. Then I would have to refrigerate the applesauce, get new lids, and re-can it tomorrow.
Although I had more product than jars, I had a blast canning the applesauce. It reminded me of days long ago. Following Mom's advice, I checked all the lids after the jars had cooled. Only one half-pint jar had a bad seal – the rest were good. So, I ate the unsealed jar of applesauce. I had applesauce in the refrigerator to be canned, but I wanted even more.
John had extension poles in his garage. I used them to pick all the Honeycrisp apples left in the treetop. I stopped at the store to buy more jars with new lids, then went home. Finally, at nine-o-clock p.m., I got started.
I put the pot of cold applesauce on the stove to reheat it for canning. While it warmed up, I cut more apples and put them on the stove to cook, and boiled water to sterilize the new jars. Speaking of which, I ran out to the van to bring the two flats of new jars inside. Unfortunately, I wasn't watching my applesauce closely enough; It started to boil.
Like an erupting volcano, bubbles of steam rose from the bottom of the pan, pushing upward. Then bursting through the surface, splashed applesauce like hot lava. I shut off the gas burner and tried to stir the pot. A glob of hot sauce landed on the back of my fingers. "OUCH!" I rushed to the sink to rinse my hand under cold water. To make matters worse, I scorched the bottom of the pan, ruining the rest of that batch. "Is this project going south on me?"
The jars I had canned the night before were still sitting on the counter. Then, suddenly, I started hearing the sealed lids pop. One, then another. A few moments later, another, and another. "You've got to be kidding me," I complained with concern. "They were all good this morning."
I removed the rings to recheck the sealed lids. They all seemed to be tight, but these were used lids. As I checked them, I heard two more seals pop. I started laughing as I figured out the source.
The new jars had been kept outside in the van. The cold air had contracted inside the jars, making the lids grip the jars. Then as the new jars warmed in the kitchen, the air expanded, and the lids would pop as if they had been unsealed. My canned applesauce was fine; my concern was for naught.
By now, the new batch of applesauce was ready to run through the colander. I smiled as I watched the smooth applesauce run outside the colander and into the turkey roaster pan. When all the apples were strained, I canned the applesauce; of course, I saved a good portion to sample the next day.
I cleaned the kitchen while I waited for the pressure canner to cool down. Then, I removed the jars from the canner, setting them on a towel by the full jars I had canned the day before. Next, I washed the canner and used the green Cosco stool to put it back on the top shelf of the pantry. I would let the jars cool down, then check the seals in the morning.
It took me four hours to clean, cut, cook, press, and can another batch of applesauce. I would have had more if I hadn't scorched the rest of the first pot.
I looked at all those jars of applesauce on the counter. It was one in the morning, and my hand hurt. "A small price to pay," I said as I turned off the kitchen lights and started walking down the dark hallway. "That applesauce is going to taste amazing this winter.” Not just applesauce, but Honeycrisp applesauce.
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The trouble all started at Roseau Hardware: an Ace Hardware store in the small town of Roseau, Minnesota.
Roseau, is in northern Minnesota; on the Canadian border. Melissa’s great-grandfather, and great-grandmother homesteaded near Roseau in the early 1900’s. Her grandfather was born there in 1914, and we’ve traveled to that area a few times to do research, and learn more about her ancestors.
We were camping in Roseau. The campground was very wet and I needed a new mat to lay in front of the Scamp door so that we wouldn’t drag mud into the camper. (We learned later that Roseau had three inches of rain that morning before we had arrived.)
I stopped at Geroy’s Home and Appliance on the main highway. The people were very helpful. They had a small piece of green Astro-turf that was about twice the size that I needed. They gave me a great price if I wanted to take the whole remnant, and so I did. With the carpet in my van, I started for the campsite.
Just a couple of blocks back, on Highway 11, I had seen a hardware store on the same side of the road. I decided to go back. I had chicken hindquarters to cook over the fire for dinner, but all the firewood at the campground was wet from the rain. If I bought a bag of charcoal and a bottle of lighter fluid, I could cook the chicken on the old fashion BBQ grill mounted on a steel post in our campsite. Besides, I needed a roll of paper towel for the camper. I pulled into the parking lot.
Roseau, is a small town, with a population of around 2,700 people. They are the headquarters for Polaris snowmobiles, and several other industries. The town has a very impressive retail community with car dealerships, at least two hardware stores, two tractor supply stores, dollar stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, trading posts – all kinds of places that would sell charcoal.
Of all the places to buy charcoal in Roseau, Minnesota, I had to step into this joint; Roseau Ace Hardware. That’s where the trouble all started.
The staff was very friendly; I was greeted right away when I walked into the building. I swear, that store has everything; a guy could easily get lost in there. A gal named Sabrina took me right to the charcoal. I picked up a ten-pound bag, and a bottle of lighter fluid, then headed for the register. I suppose everything would have been okay, if I had just kept walking to the checkout counter. But, on the way, I passed a cooler full of Frost Top soda.
There was root beer, orange crème soda and several other flavors, but the one that caught my eye was the deep purple, Premium Grape Soda. I just had to have one. So with a bag of charcoal under my left arm, and a bottle of lighter fluid in my left hand, I opened the cooler and grabbed an ice-cold twenty-ounce bottle of that purple elixir with my right hand. I paid at the register, and headed for the van.
While fumbling with the keys to open the back doors, I dropped my bottle of soda. Fortunately, it was a plastic bottle and did not break, but did roll under the van. I put the charcoal in the van, then got on my hands and knees to retrieve my grape soda from the driver’s side.
A lady in the car next to me was watching as I climbed under my vehicle with my rump in the air. I stood up, brushed off my jeans, then held the bottle to show her. “I dropped my grape soda,” I explained. She nodded and smiled, and I climbed into the driver’s seat. I couldn’t wait to crack that bottle open, but maybe I should have.
When I twisted the cap open, it exploded. Grape soda sprayed everywhere. All over me, all over the dashboard, the seats, the steering wheel, and windshield; I even got my dog Nova Mae, sitting in the passenger seat. I was so anticipating that refreshing grape soda, I failed to consider the pressure it may have built up when the bottle was dropped.
I looked through the driver’s side window, which had purple juice streaming down. The lady in the car next to me was laughing. I reached for the new roll of paper towel. “Darn,” I cursed. “I forgot the paper towel.” I tried to clean up with a napkin from the glove box, but it wasn’t enough. I stepped out of the van, looked at the lady sitting in the car next to me, and said, “I had a little problem.”
“I see that,” she said, unable to stifle her laughter. I didn’t think it was all that funny. Neither did Nova.
I was greeted right away when I walked back into the store. “Where do you keep your paper towels,” I asked Sabrina, “and, do you have a restroom I could use?” I felt very conspicuous, but she was polite and did not mention my situation. Maybe she didn’t notice; the purple soda didn’t show on my black T-shirt, however, it did look like I had wet my pants. I washed my hands, got the paper towel, and was headed to the register. I probably would have been okay from there if I would have just kept walking to the register. But there it was in front of me, how could I resist. A popcorn machine with free popcorn.
Inside the clear glass display walls, a soft yellow bulb glowed on the golden salty treat. Mmm. I had to have some, and it would go great with what was left of my grape soda. But wait – there’s more.
“What have we here?” I picked up a container on top of the popcorn machine. “Grandpa Tom’s Cowboy Spice?” I sprinkled a little into the palm of my hand. “That’s pretty good,” I said. Then I picked up Grandpa Tom’s Jalapeno Pepper Spice and sampled it. “That’s really good,” I said. “It has a nice kick.” But then I saw the Grandpa Tom’s Sweet Smoked Chipotle Spice, and tried a taste. “Wow! That’s the best,” I said. It was similar to my Tom’s Secret Chicken Rub, which I make at home.
I looked on the side of the bottle, “For beef, pork, chicken, fish, and wild game.” My eyes lit up. “Chicken?” I had chicken hindquarters waiting at the camper, but I had forgotten my chicken rub at the house. The spice was very similar to my own.
“Who is this Grandpa Tom,” I wondered, “and where did he get my Secret Chicken Rub recipe?” I tasted the product again. Then I read on the side of the bottle, “It’s made at 610 3rd Ave, NE, right here in Roseau?” I looked up and down the aisle. No one was looking, so I tasted the spice one more time from my palm, then went to the display and picked up a bottle. I carried the spice and my paper towel to the register.
Back at the campsite, I seasoned my chicken. I grilled them very slowly and they came out amazing! “I thought you forgot your chicken rub at home,” Melissa questioned.
“Oh, this is just something I picked up at the hardware store,” I explained.
“It’s very good,” she said. “It tastes a lot like yours.”
Hmfph. “It’s alright,” I said, nonchalantly. I was worried my wife might end up liking Grandpa Tom’s seasoning better than my own.
Back at home, I made chicken on the grill several times, alternating between my Secret Chicken Rub, and Grandpa Tom’s. My wife never could tell which was which. A showdown was imminent. Then one day I was at Zup’s Food’s. “Chicken hindquarters were $1.09 per pound?” That was a good price. “It’s time,” I said with an evil laugh. “Bring out your best, Grandpa Tom, show me whatcha got!”
I kept hearing fiddle music. The Charlie Daniels Band, The Devil Went Down to Georgia, played over and over in my head while I seasoned the chicken carefully. I was sure to keep them separated, and cautious to sprinkle an equal amount of each spice on the meat to make it fair. I wrapped the chicken in separate bags, and placed them in the refrigerator. “The stage is set. Tomorrow is the day.”
I laid the two bags out about twenty-minutes early, letting them come to room temperature, while the Weber Grill warmed up. At precisely 2:00 pm, I put the hindquarters on the hot grill to sear; Grandpa Tom’s on the left, Tom’s Secret Chicken Rub, on the right. I turned them at the exact same times, until they were grilled to perfection. Honestly, they all looked the same – delicious.
I pushed toothpicks into the chicken with Grandpa Tom’s spice, in order to know which was which. I called Melissa to the dinner table; giving her pieces of each. “Which do you like better,” I questioned. I suspected she would pick my spice hands down.
“I like this one better,” she said pointing to my drum stick. “No, wait. I like the one with the toothpick better.” I made no facial expression. “No, the one without the toothpick, no with the toothpick.” She kept changing her mind, “Heck, I don’t know! They taste the same if you want to know the truth. I like them both.” Then she looked at the two bottles. “Grandpa Tom’s has a fancier label,”
Hmfph. “Well, it’s what’s on the inside that matters,” I said. “Besides, he’s probably got a marketing department to help him.”
After lunch, I got on the computer and typed into a search engine, “Companies that design chicken spice labels…”
Until such a time as I market my new product, “Papa Tom’s Secret Chicken Rub,” you might want to try the other guy’s spice. It is very good. You can order online, or you can buy it at Roseau Ace Hardware, while you’re in Roseau, Minnesota. It’s a fun town to visit, and the home of Polaris snowmobiles, and Grandpa Tom’s Spices, too. (I recommend the Sweet Smoked Chipotle)
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What some call a necessity, others consider a luxury. Growing up in a big family, we often couldn't afford some luxuries my friends considered necessary.
Simple things, home remedies, often worked as well, or better, than their more expensive manufactured alternatives. But unfortunately, large marketing firms create an image of necessity for products such as toothpaste.
When I was a kid, times were different. We didn't have toothpaste. Instead, we had little Tupperware containers shaped like shot glasses. They were about twice the size and had a lid with the famous Tupperware Seal. These handy little containers came in very cool colors; yellow, blue, green, pink, orange, and white for the person with a limited desire for flair.
We kept the Tupperware container in the bathroom medicine cabinet filled with baking soda. You would open the container; sprinkle a little soda into the palm of your hand, then press the bristles of your wetted toothbrush into the soda. You were now prepared to begin the daily dental cleansing process.
We brushed our teeth in the morning and again before going to bed. I didn't seem to have any more or fewer cavities than my friends, who enjoyed the luxury of "cavity-fighting – tooth whitening" toothpaste. If you wanted a whitening agent, you added a few drops of hydrogen peroxide to the soda.
On occasion, when K-Mart offered a blue light special, Dad would come home with Pepsodent: a complete care toothpaste. But, of course, with toothpaste came responsibility and rules.
In the TV commercials, they would run a thick bead of paste from one end of the bristles to the other. The actor always put a wavy, sweeping hump in the toothpaste, leaving a curly tip - like a soft serve ice cream cone. Dad always said, "They do that to sell more toothpaste!" He insisted, "Just a dot; the size of a pea, that's all you need. The rest is just wasteful." But there were more rules than just the amount used.
"Don't let the tip of the tube touch your toothbrush bristles," Dad would say. That was equally gross to double dipping in the chip dip. There was a right and wrong way to dispense the product. You had to put pressure on the tube so that when you had your drop of toothpaste, there would be a slight vacuum action within the tube. Almost like inhaling, the toothpaste would recede slightly back inside the tube, leaving a nice clean tip for the next person – not a gunky mess. "If you can't replace the cap, don't use the toothpaste," Dad would warn.
Finally, we were required to squeeze from the flat end of the tube. As the toothpaste decreased in quantity, the tube would stay nice and neat, maintaining its sleek shape. Rolling up the foil tube as needed would also keep a nice-looking tube of toothpaste. Never, under any circumstances, was it acceptable to squeeze the middle of the tube. Never!
Squeezing the middle disturbed the natural shape and distribution of the product. It resulted in an untidy, unattractive tube of toothpaste. Lt also caused the wasted product to be trapped inside, which would lead to an investigation by Dad. ,
The violator, who dared to squeeze from the middle, would be sought out, caught, and punished. Then, losing all rights to the family tube of toothpaste, the convicted child would be banished from the toothpaste and sent back to using baking soda."
The older kids who had jobs found a way around Dad's rules; they bought their own toothpaste. Still, Dad would preach his rules to them, "You're just wasting your money when you waste toothpaste."
If we ran out of toothpaste and K-mart didn't have a special, Dad would say, "There's nothing wrong with using baking soda."
"But Dad, all my friends have toothpaste," I argued.
"If all your friends jumped off the bridge, would you jump off, too," He asked. But then, he reassured me, "There's nothing wrong with using baking soda."
Dad felt his position on dental hygiene products was proven correct when the "New and Improved Crest – Now with Baking Soda and Peroxide" was introduced. Maybe Dad knew more than we gave him credit.
I thought about Dad and his rules on toothpaste while standing at the sink this morning. Dad always used to say, "You'll follow my rules if you're living under my roof. You can make your own rules when you get your own house." I was in my house now.
I picked up my toothbrush and laughed as I squeezed the middle of the tube. I spread a thick bead of paste from one end of the bristles to the other. Naturally, I included the little wavy, sweeping hump in the middle, leaving a curly tip - just like in the commercials.
As I began brushing my teeth, it occurred to me I had used way too much toothpaste. I spit the excess into the sink, thinking, "What an expensive waste!" I went to the bedroom to get dressed. Before I left the house, I returned to the bathroom.
Applying pressure between my thumb and the tip of my index finger, I smoothed the tube from the bottom up. I made several passes pushing the paste toward the top, returning the natural shape to the damaged center where I'd squeezed it. Then, I smoothed out all the wrinkles I could. "There. That looks better," I said.
After all, I did not want to be the violator who caused the launch of an investigation. Such an investigation could lead to my conviction. I could lose all rights to the family tube of toothpaste; I would return to using baking soda, and I don't even own any of those little Tupperware containers.
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We had been home for about an hour from our fall camping trip. When I heard the buzzer on the dryer sound off, I gathered the sheets from the bed in our Scamp. I put them in the washing machine, then retrieved the clothes from the dryer.