a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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There was no school Thursday or Friday and I was going to stay with my granddaughters in Iowa. I called my daughter, Sydney, telling her I wouldn’t get there until around seven and she should go ahead and feed the girls. “They want to wait until Papa gets here to eat.” She advised. I said okay and kicked the cruise control up a few miles per hour.
After a full day at work, with household chores still left to be done, Sydney leaned against the kitchen counter, looking beat. “This pasta dish doesn’t take long to make, but I’m just so tired.” She said, “I wish we could just go get a pizza or something instead of cooking tonight.”
“I’m in the mood for pizza.” I offered, “Where do you want to go? My treat.” We went to a place called Your Pie, for individual pizzas baked in a brick oven. Before going to dinner, I gave each of the girls a cookie from a big bag of ginger cracks I made and brought from home. There were about four dozen cookies in the clear plastic bag with a white twist tie. Sydney packed a dozen or so, to take to her co-workers the next day. I told her she could freeze most of them to keep for later.
In the morning, Sydney called downstairs, “Dad? I’m leaving for work. Evelyn is up, Addison is still sleeping. I’ll see you tonight.” I didn’t get to bed until late, but pulled my tired self out from under the warm blankets and trudged my way up the stairs. Evelyn, almost three-years-old, was sitting at the table with a bowl of Cap’N Crunch, Crunch Berries and a partially eaten cookie in each hand. She spoke with a soft voice, “Papa can you get me some milk?” I closed the bag of cookies, setting them back on the counter, poured milk on her cereal and sat down to have breakfast with her. It wasn’t long before Addison joined us.
“What would you like for breakfast?” I asked the sleepy child who seemed disinterested in the variety of cold cereals. Addie looked at Evelyn, then at me and said she wanted cookies. How could I say no since her sister was already eating some? “You can have one after you eat your cereal.”
Addie reasoned, “Ev is eating cookies and she didn’t finish her cereal yet.” I remembered when Sydney was a little girl, she would debate adults by using logic and reasoning - Addison is the same way.
“That’s because Ev got up before me. If you want cookies with your cereal, you have to get up before me.” I poured a bowl of Fruit Loops for Addison and said, “Evelyn, put the cookie down until after you finish your cereal.” I served them fresh strawberries and blueberries, too, because it seemed like an adult thing to do.
Addison had asked if we could make an apple pie during my visit. We made a shopping list and went to the store. Fareway was only a few blocks away; I swear it took longer to get the kids in and out of their car seats, than it would have taken to walk to the store.
I went to the living room where the girls were watching a Disney movie and asked if they wanted to help make the pie. “No, not right now.” They answered, without turning away from the screen. I didn’t want them watching TV all day so I got two dining room chairs, placing them a few feet in front of the black iron railing that goes around the stairwell to the basement. I stretched a blanket from the chair backs, over the railing and another smaller blanket over each end.
Addison jumped up, excited, “Ev! A fort!” Both girls came running, abandoning the television for something more fun. They began moving their kiddie chairs and other treasures into the shelter. I crawled in with them to share the fort. “Papa! You can’t be in here. This fort is for girls only.” Banished from the compound, I went to the place where men belong - the kitchen, to make the pie.
It got pretty quiet in the living room – too quiet. “Knock-knock.” I announced myself at the closed blanket leading inside. I was instructed to knock on the wooden seat of the chair. I did, then poked my head inside. The two of them were munching away. “Addison, give me the bag of cookies.” They heisted the whole bag from the counter behind me while I was peeling apples at the sink.
A few minutes later I called the girls to the kitchen, holding a large mixing bowl of thinly sliced fruit. “Would you each like an apple?” They sported big smiles as they chose their slices, but upon eating them, the smiles turned to puckers. The tart Granny Smith apples were not what they were expecting. I laughed, added the sugar and spices, stirred the apples, then asked if they would like to try another. They were pleased with the new flavor and came back asking, “Papa, can we have some more of the apples with cinnamon?” I held the bowl for them, pleased that they were enjoying my cooking.
After running some other errands, we came back to the house. Addison walked into the kitchen from the garage and asked, “Papa, how did you make our house smell like your house?” Honey, that’s just apple pie.
Friday, Sydney called down the steps, “Dad? I’m leaving for work. Both girls are up, watching a movie. See you tonight.” I heard the garage door closing followed by little footsteps racing across the squeaky floors overhead. I was up late again the night before, but managed to drag my tired self from under the warm covers and trudged up the stairs.
When I emerged from the stairwell, both girls looked at me with surprise, like two deer in my headlights. Each of them eating a cookie, with the open bag sitting between them on the couch. I told them they could not have cookies for breakfast Addison immediately justified their position. “You let us have cookies for breakfast yesterday.” Not today kid, let’s go get some cereal. “But you said we could have cookies for breakfast if we got up before you did.” Hmph.
After a breakfast of cereal, fresh fruit and cookies, (yes, I caved in) Addison explained a new game they wanted me to play with them. “I’ll go in the bathroom, close my eyes and count to ten. You and Ev go hide then I will try to find you. It’s a new game called Hide and Seek, but you’ll learn it pretty fast.”
I hid Ev in her chair under a pink blanket, then I slithered behind the couch. “…eight, nine, ten. Ready or not, here I come.” She found Ev rather quickly, but it took them a few minutes to find me. “Where are you Papa?” I remained quiet. Standing near the front door, Addison called, “Come out, come out wherever you are.” Then she looked right at me laying on the floor, “PAPA! I see you!”
It was their turn to hide; I saw two rounded lumps under a blanket in a wicker basket. I quickly pulled the blanket away, yelling, “AH HA!! I found you!” The two girls screamed, tipped the basket over getting out and ran to the living room. It was my turn to hide again. It took them a while to find me standing behind a curtain. On their next turn, they hid together under their mom’s bed. I couldn’t find them right away, but then heard giggles coming from the bed skirting. I hadn’t played Hide and Seek since my daughters were little – we had a lot of fun.
Around eleven I asked the girls to get dressed so we could go to the store. “We’re going to pack sandwiches and go surprise your mom at work with a picnic for lunch.” Remembering what a hassle it was getting the girls in and out of the van, I bundled them up in their coats and mittens. It was a beautiful day: twenty-seven degrees with lots of sunshine and just a little breeze.
I took a large fleece blanket, folded it several times and lined the floor for them to sit on. I set both girls in the wagon, facing one another. I put another fleece blanket over their laps, tucking it in alongside their legs and sides. I started down the sidewalk toward the grocery store.
It’s a light-colored wagon made of wood; the removeable red wooden sides have gold lettering: Radio Flyer Town and Country. Just like the wagon my dad bought for our family when I was little, I bought one for my daughters when they were little girls. I recalled many times years ago, giving them rides. It’s a good wagon, well-built and a little more expensive than most, but I thought it was worth the money. Now almost thirty years later, I was giving my granddaughters a ride in this very same wagon.
As we made our way down the walk, the wheels went, squeak, squeak, squeak as the hard rubber tires mounted on white steel rims turned on the dry axels. “I need to oil those wheels.” I said to the girls.
At Fareway, people looked on and smiled as we made our way up and down the aisles with our little red wagon; squeak, squeak, squeak. The girls had juice boxes, some fruit, a package of lunch meat, chips and some cheese, setting in their laps. With everything on our list, we pulled through the check-out lane, paid for our groceries and headed for home in our Town and Country Wagon. “It’s good exercise.” I said, breathing a little harder as I pulled the wagon; the short three-block-walk home was all uphill. Squeak, squeak, squeak.
I packed all our sandwiches in one plastic container, some fresh fruit in another, slices of apple pie in a third, and a canister of Pringle’s potato chips. I hadn’t had those for years! I put everything into a plastic grocery sack with some napkins and forks. “Are you girls ready to go?” I went to the living room to check on them. “Where did you girls get those cookies?” I took the bag and said, “Come on, we have to go.”
Sydney was pleasantly surprised by the picnic. She looked at the girls, rolled her eyes and told her boss, “I’m not sure if the girls or Papa picked the outfits.” I’ve never been the best at coordinating fashions so I let them pick their own clothes. They chose items similar to what I would have picked. I thought they were stylin’ even if they did look like a couple of orphans.
We went to a break area to eat. “Guess what, mom.” Addison started telling a story, “Papa took us to the store in the wagon and we were under blankets and he took the wagon right into the store.”
“You took the wagon inside Fareway?” Sydney laughed. Well, I wasn’t going to leave it outside where it could be stolen. We enjoyed our picnic. Sydney told me when I got home, the girls would need a nap. “Put Ev in my bed and Addie in her room. You can try them both in my room, but Ev won’t sleep if Addison is keeping her awake.” Both girls fell asleep in the van on the ride home.
I put them down for a nap, then went to the sit on the couch. “Addison, stop it.” I called out, then “Addison, leave Ev alone and go to sleep.” The giggling continued. After several more calls, I went in to lay down with them. “Addie, go to sleep.” I put my arm around her, “Stop touching your sister and go to sleep.” Boy, I could use a nap as much as they did. “Addie stop…zzzzzzz.” I was down for the count.
I awoke when my phone rang. It was aunt Delaney. I spoke softly, telling her I was laying down with the girls, taking a nap and I would call her back later. I reached my arm over toward the girls but all I felt was an empty bed with covers. I got up. The door was pulled within an inch of being closed - I didn’t close it. I walked out into the hallway to find their bedroom door closed – I didn’t close it either.
I opened their door and the two of them were sitting at their little table playing. “Did you girls just wait until I fell asleep, then sneak out of the room?”
Addison pointed at Evelyn and confessed, “It was her idea.” That’s when I noticed they each had a cookie in their hand and the open bag was on the table between them. At least they were sharing.
“Girls!” I took the bag away, looking inside. “There are only four cookies left. Two of these are for your mom, and you can each have one after supper.”
As soon as Sydney got home, I had to get on the road heading north. We said our farewells, and I pulled away from the driveway giving two toots on the horn – see you soon, girls.
I yawned as I drove away; I was tired. “Where do those girls get all that energy?” I asked myself, then answered, “Probably from the sugar in the cookies.” I wondered if there would be any cookies left for after dinner. I started thinking about my own dinner and what I would make when I got home.
I thought, “I can find something leftover in the fridge that doesn’t take long to warm up, but I’m just so tired.” I said, “I wish I could just go get a pizza or something instead.” With that thought, I reset the GPS to take me home through Rushford, Minnesota – home of The Creamery Pizza. No doubt the best pizza in southern Minnesota.
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Sunday morning, on my way home, I crossed the Baptism River on Highway 61. Looking toward Lake Superior, I could see people standing on the lower bridge. I decided to take a little excursion off the main road and turned into the Visitor’s Center at Tettegouche State Park. Passing the parking lot, I headed for the small bridge.
The bridge draws a lot of traffic in the spring, summer and fall; pedestrians and bicyclists safely share the road with cars and motorcycles. You don’t see a lot of traffic crossing in the winter. Especially people walking on a bitterly cold day like today.
I drove slowly across the bridge. Two people on foot, stood at the railing looking up the snowy, frozen bed of the Baptism River. They turned my way long enough to give me a friendly wave. The road was plowed but still had a thick layer of packed snow. Passing under the Highway 61 bridge, I continued onward, wondering how my two-wheel-drive van would handle the hills and winding curves ahead.
The parking area for the walk-in campsites was also plowed. That seemed strange, but I thought maybe people use this parking as a place to set out on snowshoeing trails. The road continues on back to the Tettegouche camping area, then on farther back to the parking lot and trailhead leading to High Falls. I was more surprised to see the campground road cleared. Most campgrounds have barricades blocking the entrance to traffic in the winter months. I turned right to investigate.
It was odd to see cars in the driveways at the rental cabins. Then I saw a motorhome in a campsite. Weird. As I continued around the loop, there were more campers. I wondered if this might be some special event going on.
A few campsites later, there was a large tent set up. Smoke rolled from the metal chimney pipe, poking out near the peak. The pleasant smell of birch wood burning caused me to yearn for the next camping season. Two sites later, there was a green canvas tent, again with smoke rolling out of the stack. The green canvas tent took me back to a time years ago.
My family had a large khaki-colored canvas cabin tent. When we went camping, it was always crowded with people. The tent was often used by my older brothers and sisters, who took it on camping trips with their friends. Along with a few of my younger siblings, we tried without success to set up the tent in our backyard. It was so heavy we were never able to raise it up without the help of our bigger brothers or sisters – and they were at a stage in life where they were too busy with friends to mess with little kids who wanted to camp in the backyard. I dreamed of a day when I would have my own tent. A smaller tent that I could pack around and set up by myself.
My dad owned WGLB radio, in Port Washington, Wisconsin. I loved sitting in the front office, listening to him on the radio – especially when he was hosting The Trading Post; a program people used to buy and sell a variety of things.
One day a man called in. “I have an older two-man pup tent for sale. It’s been stored in the garage for a while, so it needs to be aired out, but the canvas is in good condition and the poles are straight. It comes with a carrying bag but it’s pretty rough.” My ears perked up.
Dad asked more questions, “Does it have a screen door?”
“It has two screen flaps that tie together at the opening and they’re perfect; no holes or tears.” He said. Dad asked how much he wanted for the tent. “I want seven dollars. The price is firm and you can call me at…” I scrambled for a pen or pencil as he was giving his number, then wrote it down as Dad was repeating it.
I called the man who pretty much said the same things he did during his call. He reiterated the price was firm, then gave me his address. “Okay,” I said writing it down, “I’m going to ask my dad if he can bring me there to look at it today and I’ll call you back.”
“Hey Dad?” I started the conversation. He was working at his typewriter in his office. He looked at me over the top of his glasses and asked what I needed. “Do you remember that man that called the Trading Post with a two-man pup tent for sale?” He said he did. “Well, I called him and he said we could come look at the tent today if we wanted to. I told him I would ask you and then call him back.” Dad still looking over his glasses, asked if I priced a new tent. “I looked in the Sears catalog and it’s nineteen dollars for a new tent. But a new one is nylon and the one on Trading Post is canvas, which is much stronger and he only wants seven dollars for it.”
Still looking over his glasses, he inquired, “Do you have seven dollars?” I admitted that I did not.
“I’ve been saving my money from mowing Mr. Klinke’s yard and I have four dollars and eighty cents. I was going to ask the man if he would let me make payments on the rest.” Dad was quiet, still looking at me. “Can I call and tell him we’ll come today?”
Dad glanced at his watch then resumed typing. “I won’t be ready to leave until after 4:00.”
I was excited that Dad didn’t say no. “So, should I tell him we’ll be there at four?”
Dad paused for a moment, “What is his address?” He started typing again, while I read it from my note. “That’s out past Sentry Foods.” He said, without stopping. I thought he was changing his mind. “You better tell him 4:30.”
The man met us in his driveway and handed me a rolled-up bunch of canvas. We took it to his lawn and unrolled what appeared to be an old Army tent. Inside were four poles and a small bag. “What’s that?” I asked. He opened the bag and took out six stakes. He showed me how to anchor the first corner through the loop, while the tent was flat. “You have to make sure it’s taught.” He said, as he tugged on each corner before driving another stake. Then he pounded one stake about three feet in front and another about three feet behind the tent, although I didn’t know what they were for.
He put two pole pieces together and stood it in the front center of the tent. A rope was attached to the top of the tent. On the loose end, the rope went through a hole in a round wooden handle, then came back through another hole on the other side, creating a small loop. A knot tied at the end of the rope kept the handle from coming off. He slipped the loop around the front stake, then pulled up on the handle a bit so the pole would remain standing.
He put the last two pole pieces together, handed them to me and said, “You go inside and put this up in the back the same way I did the front. I’m too old to be crawling around in a pup tent. That’s why I’m selling it.” I did as he said, but the pole kept falling inward each time I tried to put it up. “That’s okay,” he said, “let it fall and come out here.”
On the back, there was another rope tied to the top, just like the front. He slipped the loop over the back stake, pulling it slightly tighter than the front. It brought the pole upright and held it in place. The tent looked good, but I pointed out how it sagged in the middle. “Well, just hold your horses.” He said, while walking back to the front. He pulled the front handle tighter and the tent stood straight as could be.
“So, the wood handle just slides up and down the rope and cinches to make the tent tighter?” I thought that was pretty neat. He showed me how to roll the canvas door flaps back and tie them to stay open when it was warm outside and how to tie them together to keep them closed when it was cold. The tent was so old that it didn’t have zippers, so the screen flaps tied the same way.
I sat inside the tent while the man looked in through the open doors. It smelled musky. There was a slight smell of petroleum or maybe plant fertilizer and campfire smoke all mixed together. “It stinks in here.” I told him.
“Well, I said it needs to be aired out.” He snapped back, “It’s been rolled up, sitting in the garage for a few years now. What do you want for seven bucks?”
I climbed out, looking to Dad to see what he thought. He said, “It’s older, but in good shape and I think it will air out. It’s your money, son…”
I turned to the man, “About that seven dollars…” I explained my financial situation, “I want to buy the tent. I’ve got four dollars and eighty-cents with me… The man interrupted to remind me the price was firm. “I know.” I answered, “I was wondering if I gave you this money today, would let me make payments on the rest. I get a dollar-fifty each time I mow Mr. Klinke’s yard, so I could have you paid off in two weeks.”
He looked at me, “You mow lawns?” I told him I did. “What would you charge me to mow my yard tomorrow – and rake it too, including around the shrubs?” I looked over the yard. It wasn’t any bigger than Mr. Klinke’s yard, but he wanted me to rake it, too.
I quickly did the math in my head. I wanted to make enough to pay off the rest of the tent. “How about three dollars and twenty-cents?” I said.
He shook my hand, “We’ve got a deal.” The man said, “Be here in the morning and make it early, before it gets too hot outside.” I gave him my money, then Dad and I left. We went to the A&W in Grafton where they had a special; three chili dogs for one dollar. Dad ate two and I had one. We split an order of fries and a small coke. All the while we were eating, I told Dad about the adventures I would have with my new tent.
Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I was so excited about getting my tent that I didn’t sleep that night. The next morning, Dad dropped me off at the man’s house and told me to call him at the radio station when I was done. It took most of the day to mow and rake his yard. The man gave me a cold cheese sandwich with mayo on white bread, lemonade and a cookie for lunch. It tasted good.
Dad came to get me in the late afternoon. The man gave me the tent and handed me another dollar. Puzzled, I asked what the extra dollar was for. “Kid, you do good work, but in the future, you better let someone else handle the money.” He started laughing, although I still didn’t know why. Then he handed me another dollar, “Here. This is for you. I think the yard was a lot bigger job than you thought it would.”
I sat in the passenger’s seat, holding and admiring my new tent. Dad explained the extra dollar and the error I made in my math, then said, “Why don’t you roll your window down.”
I wrinkled my nose, “It stinks, doesn’t it?”
“It will air out.” Dad assured as he turned into the radio station driveway. “Why don’t you leave your tent outside for now.” He suggested, “You can set it up and tie the flaps open to let it air out.
In the yard of the radio station, I slept in the tent alone that night. It was a little scary for a twelve-year-old kid, even though I had the doors tied tightly for security. In the morning, when the sun shined on the green canvas, it got hot inside the tent. With no air movement, I woke up sweating.
It always got hot inside when the sun shined. If it rained, or the tent was wet with morning dew, and I slept touching the canvas walls, the moisture came right through the walls and I would get wet, too. Still, I kept that tent well into my adult years. When my daughters were little, I tried to get them to sleep in the tent, but they wouldn’t. “It stinks in there, Dad.” They would complain – so I bought them a playhouse, instead. I don’t know what ever happened to that tent.
On the way out of the park, I stopped and talked to a guy who worked for the Minnesota DNR. “I think Tettegouche is the only state campground that has heated shower houses.” He told me, “We keep this campground open all year, including the cabins and the walk-in sites.” I told him the park was basically in our backyard and I had no idea it was open for winter camping. “Yep, 24-7/365, we’re always open,” He laughed, “and just like the summer months, we’re at full capacity right now.”
Winter camping is so much fun, I thought maybe I should go home and dig our Scamp out from under the snow. I drove through the campground loop again, looking at the green canvas tent and how it sharply contrasted with the white snow surrounding it. The smoke billowing from the metal chimney smelled good. I smiled, wondering if they were as warm in their green canvas tent as I always was in mine.
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“The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” (Navin R. Johnson, The Jerk, 1979.) On the driveway at the gas station, he couldn’t stifle his elation. “Page seventy-three. Johnson, Navin R. I’m somebody now!”
I picked up the new Dex, Northland Directory, that came in the mail last Friday. I did my very best to impersonate Steve Martin as I danced around the kitchen. Our dog, June and our cat, Edgar Allen, watched with confused amusement.
I put on my reading glasses and thumbed rapidly through the pages, landing on page fifty-six. “Right there!” I exclaimed, pointing sharply with my index finger, “Right there, between Palaszzari and Palfe! That’s where my name should be!”
Should be? It seems I’m not in this addition of the phone book. How disappointing.
The arrival of the new phone book was always an exciting day for people. My first recollection of its arrival was when we lived in Madison, Wisconsin. We had a phone upstairs, one in the kitchen and another in the basement, so we got three copies of the directory. It was a big, thick book – even bigger than the Sears Catalog. I opened it and scrolled through the pages until I found it; Palen, Daniel C. 4304 Hegg Ave. 222-1038. I found comfort and pleasure in that.
When we moved to Ottumwa, Iowa, I was still living at home. We got four copies of the directory. Back then, only the phone company could install a phone, so they knew we had a phone on each floor of the house and one in the barn. (Dad didn’t like walking all the way to the house when a call was for him.) When the new phone book came, I looked through it right away. There it was: Palen, Daniel C. RR#5. 683-1776. Again, I was thrilled to see that and dreamed of a day when I would have my own listing in the book.
When I moved out of my parents’ house and into an apartment with my brother, the new phone book arrived. Keep in mind, I moved out the same year the famous hit movie, The Jerk, was released. Prepared to dance and celebrate, I immediately flipped through the pages, looking for my name - I’m sure that’s what everyone did as soon as the new phone book arrived. I found it: “Palen, J. Gerard. 224 East Maple St. 684-5310.” I was puzzled. “What? That’s my number and that is our address, but where’s my name?”
With the book tucked into the front of my pants like a pistol, I got on my motorcycle. I drove to the Northwestern Bell Telephone Company at the corner of Fourth and Washington Streets. I was going to show them their error and get some answers. Mary Ann, the clerk, explained, “Since the account is in your brother’s name, it’s listed in his name in the directory.” She went on to tell me I could have the number published in my name also, but it would cost fifty-cents per month for an additional listing.
Mary Ann told me, “Your name will appear in the new directory, which will be published next spring.” I protested, why the long wait? For that kind of money, I envisioned the phone company would gather up all the old books and give everyone a new book that included my name. She offered, “Your information will be available through Directory Assistance starting next month.” That made me feel a little better, but it’s not the same as seeing your name in the phone book.
The following spring, I whipped through the pages faster than ever. “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!” My cat, who bore the same name as Navin’s dog in the movie, woke up from her nap on the couch and watched me as if I had totally lost it. “There it is,” I told her, pointing to the page, “Palen, Thomas A. 310 North Street. 684-5310.” I danced about the living room, joyously proclaiming, “I am somebody now!” Aloof to my excitement, the cat tucked her head back into her curled-up position and resumed her nap.
Cell phones and the internet have diminished what was once one of the most exciting days of the year. Not having a landline, my name wasn’t going to be listed in the new Northland Directory. With lack of enthusiasm, I dropped the book on the bench at the kitchen table. It bounced off and fell onto the floor, landing in an open position.
June and Edgar Allen, rushed with curiosity to the open publication. Maybe they thought it was something to eat. Maybe they were looking up the number for 911 to report a crazy man in their kitchen. Or, maybe they were going to look for their names. It’s what everyone does when the new phone book arrives.
I laughed over a vision appearing in my mind; the two of them dancing on their back feet, holding each other’s paws while chanting, “The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here.”
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Writing is usually easy for me when I know what I’m going to write about and today I knew what I wanted to write. But sometimes other thoughts race through my mind[TP1] , distracting me from the subject at hand. Today is the 29th anniversary of my father’s passing and he has been on my mind all day.
One thing was certain about my dad: when he said something, he meant it. His conviction and sincerity were unquestionable, although at times I challenged his logic or the basis of his statement. For example, pinching.
When I got into a spat, or even just playing with any of my siblings, if anyone pinched another person my dad would jump right in, “Don’t pinch! It can cause cancer.” Cancer? Really? I don’t think that was true, but dad said it, so it must have been. Another cause of cancer was the hickey.
The hickey, being a mark left on one’s neck from making out with a boyfriend or girlfriend, was a pretty common thing in the sixties and seventies. Dad did not like them at all. “It looks trashy and they can cause cancer.” He declared. I agreed with dad. They were not very attractive, but causing cancer? Later in life, I concluded hickeys may have led to a lot of unexpected babies, but I doubt anyone ever got cancer from one.
I suppose I was around eleven or twelve years old, when a cute girl at school was going to give me her phone number. I didn’t have anything to write on, so I let her write it on my arm. She drew some flowers, birds, stars and a rainbow with hearts. When I got home, dad saw the artwork. “Don’t ever write on your skin with ink. What were you thinking? That can work into your blood and you could get ink poisoning, which can cause cancer.” I suppose it could happen, although I never met anyone who suffered from ink poisoning.
I later learned a practical reason for not writing on your hand or arm: ink from a pen easily wears off and you could lose your note.
Once in high school, a girl was giving me her phone number, but I didn’t have anything to write on. We were going to go cruising around town that night in my 1974 Chevy Nova. I didn’t want to write her number on my hand, for fear it would wear off, so I dug in my pocket and pulled out the only three dollars I had to my name. She wrote her name, first and last, along with her address and phone number on one of the bills. I told her I would call her later and tucked the bill securely in my pocket.
After school, I put a few gallons of gas in my car, which cost a little under a dollar per gallon. It wasn’t until I got home and went to call her, that it occurred to me, I gave the bill on which she wrote her information to the guy at the gas station.
Thinking I stood her up, she didn’t want to talk to me the next day at school. When I explained what happened, she became furious! “You gave my name, number and address to a stranger at the gas station? You might as well have written it on the bathroom wall. Every boy in town is going to be calling me!” I guess I never thought about that. As life went on, I learned not to write on my hand, nor on money.
Dad always carried a wad of small papers - napkins, envelopes, receipts and such, folded and neatly tucked into his top shirt pocket or the pocket inside his suit coat. This is where he kept his notes. He would frequently pull out his papers and a ballpoint pen to add another note. I tried his method, but when the wad got too thick or cumbersome, I would throw it away – important notes and all.
One time a man was doing some work for my dad and needed to get some things from the lumber yard. He picked up a short scrap from a 2X4 board and wrote on it. When I asked why he was writing on a board, he explained, “It’s a carpenter’s tablet.”
“What’s that?” I queried, never having heard the term.
“A carpenter’s tablet is anything you can find to write on so you don’t forget what you went to the store for.” He said, laughing. I remembered his words.
When I started doing my own projects, I used a lot of different things to make a list or take notes; a piece of word, a scrap of sheetrock, a section of paper torn from a bag of mortar mix; anything handy to write on made a good carpenter’s tablet. Finding something to write a note upon goes far beyond just projects.
Around the house, I’ve written notes on envelopes which bills came in, empty cereal boxes, old receipts; anything close and available is fair game when you need to make a note. Just don’t write on your hand or on money.
The other day while I was driving, a lady from the doctor’s office called to give me the date and time for my upcoming appointment. I scrambled, looking for something to write on. Everything I picked up was important and couldn’t be used for notes. Finally, I found something but didn’t have a pen handy. I grabbed a Sharpie marker from my cup holder, clinched the cap in my teeth and pulled the marker loose. I wrote as she spoke. “Your appointment is with Doctor C. on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at 11:30 a.m.”
“Okay, I have it written down.” I said, “I’ll see you then.” I was pretty proud of myself for finding something to write on so quickly and taking down this important information.
I left the note on the dashboard of the van where I originally found the “notepad,” that way I would see it regularly and not forget to transfer the information into my schedule book. This morning I did just that. Then, I set the grapefruit upon which my note was written, back on the dashboard in the van. Hey, anything close and available is fair game when you need to write a note. “I think I’ll eat that grapefruit after lunch today.” I said.
I smiled warmly as I could almost hear my dad saying, “Don’t write on your grapefruit. That ink could soak in through the rind and you could get ink poisoning and that can cause cancer.”
I was still smiling, while looking at the ridiculous note on the side of the pinkish-orange citrus fruit. A tear welled up in my eye. “At least I didn’t write it on my hand, Dad.”