a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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June has always had an overabundant supply of energy and desire to play. She especially loves to play catch - with anything. A tennis ball or stick is preferred outdoors. Indoors, she has a wide variety of toys but shows favoritism to her stuffed moose, beaver, and ropes. She gets so excited to play that sometimes it's hard to get her to settle down.
I was lying on the couch and wanted to pet her. "Come here, June." June came running to me with her orange stuffed moose, trying to push it into my hand. I set the moose on the back of the couch. "No, June, I just want my dog." She ran off and returned with her rope. I took the rope, "No, Bugs, I just want my dog." Next, she brought a shredded rag; what's left of her stuffed beaver. I took the toy, set it on the back of the couch. "Buggy, I just want my dog." Finally, June sat down, and I scratched her head while telling her she was beautiful.
I scratched behind her ears; I remembered a day almost 12 years ago.
"Honey, can you come here for a minute?" Melissa sat at the left end of the antique wooden dining room table. She had the newspaper classifieds spread out, two pages wide, in front of her. Then, with a pair of scissors, she clipped an ad from the middle of the page.
"Look," Melissa said, reading the ad while holding it up for me to see. "Free Puppies. Border collie, blue heeler mix. Eight weeks old, weened, and ready to go." The ad went on to say they also had free puggle puppies.
Our daughter Annie had been pressing to get a family dog. "We can think about it," Melissa told her.
A couple of weeks earlier, Melissa had briefly mentioned, which led to us having some minor discussions about the slight possibility of maybe thinking about getting a dog sometime down the road. "You're not thinking about a puggle, right?" Don't get me wrong, puggles are cute, just not my style.
"No," she said. "Remember, we talked about looking into the possibility of a border collie? I wonder what a border, blue heeler mix would look like?"
At that time, I was more eager to get a dog than Melissa – but she was open to at least discussing the idea; I mean, she's the one who found the ad. "We could go look at them," I suggested, with an open cell phone in my hand. "Is there a number listed?" I called the people and got an address. "They'll be there anytime today."
Melissa cautioned, "We are just going to look, okay?" Then, in tune with my thought process, she repeated, "We're just looking, right?" I agreed. It was Melissa's way of saying we didn't want just any dog; we would take our time to find the right dog for our family.
We turned into a farm lane off the north side of the Eddyville, Albia highway. There were several cars and many people in the yard and driveway. The site was as chaotic as an estate sale with really good prices. A couple of pre-teen kids and their mom strolled among the crowd, answering questions and offering sales pitches to people who showed interest.
Several people were holding puppies. Other pups ran around; one group chased an adult border collie. Another litter of pups was in tow behind a pug. Both female dogs had heavy nipples swaying under their tummies, trying to elude their young. Neither dog showed any interest in letting their offspring nurse.
A loose beagle greeted anyone who showed him any attention. On the opposite side of the driveway, an adult blue heeler was chained to a dog house. One of the kids referred to him as Sergeant. The heeler jumped up on the roof, sitting on the peak like Snoopy, but Sarge sat on the front edge more like a gargoyle. He looked over the lot of puppies as if to boast, "Yep, those are mine."
We paused at the puggles; most of them were tan and white with some black – traditional beagle colors. But a few of the puggles were gray with black speckles. A little kid held a puppy to his cheek, pleading, "Mom, please. I promise I'll take care of him."
But Mom stood her ground, "I said we're just looking."
"I feel ya, kid," I muttered. "I'm in the same boat."
"What did you say," Melissa asked.
Thinking quickly, I pointed to one of the gray and black speckled pups, "I said it looks like ole Sarge is quite the lover. That is not a beagle mix." Melissa told me to stop it, but I pressed, "Seriously, look at the chest and body colors on the heeler. I'll bet he's the daddy of some of these puglettes." Melissa gave me a look, but I laughed, "What would you call them? Pugeelers? Blue Ugs?"
"Let's go look at the other puppies," she said.
The young boy and girl approached us where we were petting the border-blue heeler pups. Then, being quite the salesman, he asked what we were looking for. "This one is a really good puppy," he said, scooping up a little male. But another pup had caught our eye. It was a roly-poly little female who seemed to have a mind of her own.
While all the other puppies followed their mother trying to nurse, the little girl pup roamed off to explore on her own; in the barn, around the tree, she wasn't interested in being part of the pack, begging for milk.
At one point, the pup wandered across the drive, under a gate into an area with cows. She had every intention of herding those cattle – rounding them up. But, instead, the mother snapped and growled at the litter, leaving them while she ran over to scold the free-spirited renegade and bring her back to the fold.
Melissa picked up the wayward puppy. "What about this one," she asked the salesman.
His sister answered, "Oh, that's Zoey. We might be keeping her." Melissa and I took an instant liking to "Zoey." She had a lot of black in her coat with black around her eyes and ears. There was an hourglass shape of grey and white with speckles over her nose and head. On her black back was a perfect letter J in lighter colors.
"So, what do you think of this little guy," the boy asked, again presenting the male. It must have been obvious Zoey was the puppy we wanted.
"We really like this little girl. Are you sure you don't want to let her go," Melissa asked?
The boy and his sister looked at one another, shrugging their shoulders as if to say: we need to find homes for all these puppies. Then, finally, their mom walked up, saying, "We were trying to decide if we were going to keep Zoey or the other male."
Melissa gazed into the young pup's eyes; they were still blue-grey, and her puppy breath was more alluring than any perfume. "Do you know when was she born?"
The young man answered right away, "June 23rd."
Melissa quickly did the math, "She's only six weeks old. Are you sure she's ready to go?"
"Yep, they're all weaned and ready to go." The boy said. "If you really want her, you can take Zoey, and we'll keep the male instead."
"Are you sure," Melissa asked. "We don't want to take your puppy."
"We're sure." The boy and girl answered together; Mom agreed. We loved the puppy, but not so much her name. We would work on that.
The puppy nestled in on the padded console between the front seats in the truck, enjoying the cool air from the a/c vents. With her head laying on my arm like a pillow, Zoey slept all the way home. Melissa stroked her back, "She was born in June and has a big J on her back. So let's call her June."
"June Bug. I like that," I said.
Melissa corrected me, "It's June."
As time went on, June Bug affectionately acquired more names: Bugs, Bugsy, Buggy, Bugzerellie. I have no idea where Melissa came up with Tater Bugs, but that was another one. But, even with all those nicknames, she's still June and always will be. Well, June Palen, when she was in trouble – which wasn't very often, but there were times.
Although she got along better with people than other dogs, June was kind to everyone. (other dogs couldn't throw a stick, but they did try to take hers)
On her seventh birthday, we surprised June with a black cat. Edgar Allan. "Are you kidding me," June asked in disbelief? However, within a few days, June accepted Edgar, and the two became best buddies very quickly. "Look, kid; if you're going to live here in my house, you will have to learn a few things."
June showed Edgar the ropes, and the little black cat grew up learning to walk on a leash, hike, camp, and travel. While the duo adventured through all lower forty-eight states with us, June taught Edgar how to pour on the charm when meeting new people. "Good morning, ma'am; you look lovely today." Or, "Hello, good sir. Would you happen to have a stick with you?"
June would let Edgar share her seat in the car, her spot in front of the fireplace, her bed, and toys. But she drew the line if Edgar messed with her tennis balls. Those were sacred. Oh, and the red laser dot. June would run over Edgar for the red dot. Then, she'd let Edgar have the first drink from a freshwater bowl. June was very kind.
It totally breaks my heart to tell you that June passed away peacefully on Friday, March 25, 2022. We are crushed beyond words.
Just two weeks prior, June was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She was full of life and intended to live the rest of her days to the fullest. Instead, June had a few days of lethargy and days where she was so energetic you wouldn't have known there was anything wrong with her.
We celebrated the first day of spring as a family, sitting on the back deck in the sunshine and grilling pork chops. Then, Edgar began staying even closer than usual to June. He insisted on napping next to her and giving her head boops. He no longer lurked under a bump in the rug to ambush June in the dark hallway or from under the bed.
Wednesday was a really good day for June. She carried her moose around and brought toys to Melissa and me to toss for her. Thursday, she was tired. Friday, I had to go to southern Minnesota. Melissa would stay home with June.
She was lying on the futon when I talked to her. "Bugs, I'm supposed to go on a short trip. I'll be home by ten tonight. Are you going to be okay?" She assured me she would be. "Are you sure because I can stay home if you need me?" She again said she'd be okay. "Alright, then give me kisses." I pressed my lips together tight, and June gave me five or six licks on the mouth and mustache.
By the time I loaded the car, it was half-past noon. June had moved to the living room. I went to see her. I petted her head and scratched behind her ears. "I love you, June Bug. Give me kisses." I went to the kitchen for my coffee mug. Returning, I knelt down to her. "I love you. If you need to go, baby, it's okay. I just don't want you to suffer," I whispered. "Can I have kisses?" She gave me just one kiss. Perhaps the sweetest kiss ever.
I backed out of the driveway and gave two toots on the horn. "I'll be back soon, Buggy; please wait for me." I was worried something would happen to June while I was gone, and I wouldn't be there for her. Still, a voice told me I had to go.
I ran errands in Silver Bay and Superior. I talked to Melissa a couple of times as she kept me updated on June's condition. I was crossing the bridge back to Duluth when I got word from my wife. "Babe, she's not going to make it." I immediately canceled my appointment, then called Melissa back. She held June and put me on speakerphone, "June Bug, hang on, baby girl. I'm on my way home."
"She raised her ears, Tom. She heard you." Melissa said.
June loved living here in the north woods. The cool air, the trees, wildlife in her yard, the woods, and the lakes. She loved traveling, but the north shore was her home.
Melissa didn't want June to pass inside the house; that's not how June would want to go. So she carried June to the open front door so that June could see outside and breathe the fresh air.
The red squirrel June always chased off the porch, stopped eating seeds. He remained calmly in the bird feeder to show June respect and say farewell. Across the walk, a grouse stood under the trees – the grouse June always chased whenever she saw him. But this time, the grouse didn't run away. Instead, he fully ruffed his feathers and fanned his tail, offering a salute to June. "Thank you for letting me live here, June, and letting me live." June never killed anything – she was kind to everyone.
Melissa tried to keep June from seeing her cry and focused on the nature June loved. "See all the birds at the feeder, June? Do you feel the breeze? Look at all the pine trees waving at you." June's heartbeat was fading. "There's the squirrel and the grouse." Melissa held the free-spirited pup, telling her, "Go chase them." Melissa wept, holding her. June took her last breath, and her heart quietly stopped beating.
By the time I ran into the house, June was lying peacefully on her bed in the living room. Her beautiful black coat was brushed and shiny. Her face was washed, and her soft brown eyes sparkled. June looked so peaceful; I had to ask Melissa, "Is she gone?"
Melissa nodded and said, "I'm so sorry, Tom." Her tears fell like rain, as did mine.
I picked June up, carried her to the couch, and held her in my arms. My eyes burst with tears, "Oh, June bug. My sweet, beautiful June Bug, I'm so sorry I wasn't here for you." Melissa sat next to me with one hand on my shoulder and the other on June's back. We wept together, mourning the loss of our little girl.
I felt sick to my stomach, and my chest hurt like someone had punched me, tearing my heart out. I was devastated and felt like I'd failed June for not being there for her. Then I heard that same voice telling me earlier to go, "Tom, you had to go. June needed you to go away so that she could leave. She didn't want you to see her pass. June needed to be alone with Melissa." I cried even harder.
I began to pray out loud, "Thank you, God, for the gift of June and for trusting us to take care of her for almost twelve years. Thank you, God, for having Melissa here with June, to be with her, and hold her while she passed on to You." We both cried even harder. "And thank you, Lord, for not letting June suffer a long illness. Thank you."
Melissa cried and said, "Isn't it ironic this beautiful, gentle dog, who was so kind to everyone, died of a large heart."
Thank you, June Bug, for the joy you brought and the love you showed us. Thank you for working and playing with us, camping, canoeing, fishing, and hiking – you're the best trail dog there ever was. Thank you for traveling the country with us; for the stories you made, for all the hearts you touched along the way; the lives you changed. You certainly changed ours. We will always hold you dearly in our hearts. Life won't be the same without you, June.
We ran our fingers through June's soft coat, and tears continued falling. Edgar was close by; I whispered to June, "We just want our dog."
June Bug Palen, June 23, 2010 – March 25, 2022
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Ah, March. The month comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This year March came in like a lamb, so theoretically, the month should go out like a lion – weatherwise, but we'll have to wait and see.
There's a lot to celebrate in March; Saint Urho's Day, Saint Patrick's Day, Fat Tuesday, and Ash Wednesday, followed by Lent and spring.
Fat Tuesday came early this year, catching me off guard, and we didn't do anything festive. But it did cause me to yearn for New Orleans and some good Cajun-style food. It took me two weeks, but on March fifteenth, I finally made some Louisiana Red Beans and Rice with Andouille sausage, a spicy little dish with a nice glow. (Beware the Ides of March.) We enjoyed this meal with our last bottle of Yuengling beer, which we bootlegged into Minnesota from Texas.
The month moved along, and we came to the first day of spring. Usually, I consider spring in northern Minnesota to be the second coming of snow. But this vernal equinox brought us a gorgeous sunny day with temperatures in the mid-forties.
Melissa and I put on shorts and went out to the deck to bask in the sun; I even took off my shirt to catch some rays – good ole, natural vitamin D. Our black cat Edgar Allan and dog June Bug came out to join us, contrasting my pastie white torso and legs.
Our patio furniture remained snowed in stored underneath the deck. So, we laid blankets and beach towels out on the wood top and enjoyed the day laying out in the sun – just as a southerner may head for the beach on an exceptionally nice first day of spring. Sunbathing in forty-five-degree weather may sound crazy to some of you, but you'd have to understand the warmth and intensity of the Minnesota sun.
Around one-o-clock, a few clouds rolled in, bringing a breeze with them. But, just that quick, forty-five degrees was way too cold to be outside wearing just a pair of shorts. So, with goosebumps covering my arms and legs, we gathered our blankets and retreated indoors.
Melissa walked into the living room with a broom and a vacuum. It appeared she would start cleaning, so I tried to slither back into the kitchen quietly. If I could escape out the back door, I could resume goofing off elsewhere on this first day of spring. But unfortunately, it was too late – she'd already spotted me. "You could take these area rugs out on the deck to let them air out?"
I tried to reason with her, "Honey, it's way too nice out to be working inside. Let's go do something fun."
"Do you know what day this is?" Was she testing me?
"Of course, it's the first day of spring." As soon as I said it, I knew I should have answered, "March twentieth?" But, instead, I'd just set her up like one volleyball player sets up another to spike the ball and score!
She smiled as she seized the opportunity I offered. "That's right, honey, it's the first day of spring, and we're doing some spring cleaning." She handed me the rolled-up rugs, and I headed for the deck.
I tried to sneak down the hallway toward the bedroom back in the house. But it was too late; she'd already seen me. Over the noisy vacuum, she suggested, "Why don't you bring up the mop and bucket from the basement? We'll clean the floors today." I started to tell her I'd rather not but quickly recognized – that wasn't really just a suggestion.
Melissa kept cleaning while I was mopping the floors. Finally, the house was starting to look good. I glanced out the window at the sun reflecting off the snow in the yard. Although this day felt like spring, there was snow forecasted for the next two days. I swished my mop in the hot, soapy water bucket, then squeezed out the mop head and began swabbing the floors again. I laughed, "Spring in Minnesota – the second coming of snow."
Looking out the windows at the yard gave me an idea. I decided to open a few windows to let the fresh air make its way through, airing out the house as part of our spring cleaning. "This glass could use a good cleaning, too," I said as I raised the sash. Our windows tip inward, making the panes easy to clean. I thought about my dad cleaning the windows when I was younger.
First, he would remove the storm windows. Then climb his stepladder with a small pail of soapy water and a rag. After washing the window, he would clear the water with a squeegee. Then, he'd pull a clean, soft cotton rag, usually an old cloth diaper, from his back pocket and polish the glass. Finally, Dad would carefully inspect the glass for any missed smudges or, worse yet, streaks.
If he found a spot or streak, Dad would huff his hot breath on the spot, then move his rag in small circular motions, cleaning the defective area. Next, he'd come off the ladder to inspect the glass from the ground. If the glass was sparkling clean, he would go back up the ladder to hand the screen over the window for the upcoming warmer days.
Dad was a stickler for clean glass. The windows on his car were always spotless – inside and out. On occasion, one of the kids would touch a window in his car. "Doggone it. Look at that. You left fingerprints on the glass." He'd complain, "You don't need to touch the glass to look out the window." Then Dad would go to the truck, get his little bottle of glass cleaner, and clean the affected area.
Dad was the same way with his eyeglasses. He was constantly cleaning them, and mine too.
I started wearing glasses when I was about two years old. My dad would take my glasses from my face and hold them up to the light. "How can you see through these?" He would huff a couple of times if we were outside, covering my glasses with steam from his breath, then polish them with his handkerchief. He would use his soft cotton shirttail if he didn't have a hanky. I liked it when Dad cleaned my glasses.
He would go to a sink inside the house and let the water run until it was hot. Dad rubbed the bar soap between his hands, then cleaned my glasses with the suds between his fingers. Next, he'd wash the lenses and the frames, even the bows. After rinsing my glasses, he'd set them on the edge of the sink. Then Dad dried his hands and used the hand towel to dry my glasses. When they were dry, he'd polish the lenses with his hanky. Dad always expressed the importance of having clean glasses.
When he put the glasses back on my face, they were warm. He'd work the fitted bows around the back of my ears with his warm fingers. His touch was gentle and felt good. After Dad cleaned my glasses, the world always looked like a whole new, brighter place. Then, he would pull his black plastic comb from his pocket to groom my hair. Those were beautiful memories.
I made those same memories with my daughter Delaney, who also wore glasses as a little kid. I would take them from her face and hold them up to the light. "How can you see through these things?" Now I do the same thing with my granddaughters. I wonder if someday they will have the same fond memories.
The spring weather was still around when we finished cleaning the house. I put a chocolate cake in the oven and fired up the Weber grill. Melissa asked if I'd like a beer with dinner. After the incident a few nights earlier, I decided just to have water.
Several nights earlier, Melissa asked if I'd like to share the last Yuengling beer. (Bootlegged in from Texas) "Sure," I said. She poured half the bottle of Yuengling into a small glass for me. I drank the brew before eating our Louisiana Red Beans and Rice dinner. Then I rinsed the glass and set it on the kitchen counter, or, at least, I thought I did.
Later, after dinner, Melissa and I split a Snickers bar while watching a movie. I wanted just a couple of swallows of milk, so I went to the kitchen. There was no need to turn on the lights; the light from the fridge would suffice. I also didn't see the need to dirty another glass – I'd just use the same glass I used for my beer.
I poured a little milk into the glass and drank it. "YUCK! This milk is spoiled." I declared. Then I remembered, I intended to but never drank the rest of my beer. Instead, I poured the milk into a glass that still had some warm beer. Yuck!
I'm trying to decide if I should close this story with a reminder from Dad of the importance of always having clean glasses - even drinking glasses, or write it off as Beware the Ides of March.
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I sensed something had moved on the couch. It was uncomfortable, causing me to wake up. I opened my eyes and saw a three-quarter round blue oval with the letters "DVD" floating aimlessly about the air on the far side of the room. I thought I was hallucinating.
It turns out the movement on the couch was our thirty-five-pound dog, who was now attempting to sit on my head. I quickly realized I had fallen asleep on the sofa watching M*A*S*H. My wife must have opened the bedroom door upstairs for June; either she needs to go out, or Melissa sent the dog to retrieve me to come to bed.
I checked the clock on my cell phone; I couldn't go back to bed. It was time to get up, but why was it so dark outside?
In the kitchen, June was ready to eat. "You're going to have to wait a moment while I put my breakfast in the microwave." First, I put oatmeal in the bowl, then added cinnamon, raisins, and water. Next, I chopped up some fresh peaches that were leftover in the refrigerator, stirring them into the mix.
As I placed the bowl in the microwave oven, I noticed a flashing yellow light on the side of the neighbor's house. According to the microwave clock, the recycling truck was an hour early! Argh! I don’t like that feeling of failure when missing the recycling truck.
I ran to the back door, fumbling with the knob to open the spring-loaded lock. I grabbed the full recycling bin from the enclosed porch and then kicked the door with my foot behind me to make sure it latched.
There was no time to run outside and around the house; I’d cut through inside. I was careful to avoid spilling anything as I ran through the kitchen and dining room with the open top receptacle. "Get out of my way, cats; I have to get through!"
I balanced the red plastic container against my hip with one hand while I grabbed the door handle with my other. Opening the French door, our cats Salem and Eve bolted between my legs and around my feet, tripping me up as they escaped into the living room. I started to stumble and hit the recycling bin against the other half of the still latched French door. The door banged and rattled; the tin cans and glass bottles clanked together like a giant rattle. A few of them spilled onto the floor. I was surprised we didn't wake the whole neighborhood, let alone everyone in the house. "Come on, June," I said, gathering the falling cans, "they won't wait!"
My tennis shoes sat next to the front door, but there was no time. The truck had already passed our house. It was now in front of the neighbor's house to the west. I had to catch him; the bin wouldn't hold another week's worth of recyclables. "I should have just taken it out last night when I was thinking about it."
Somehow, I thought I would magically change my ways overnight and I'd get up early enough to run the trash out before heading to work. I have that same intention every week.
The man was very nice. He saw me running down the sidewalk and signaled for the driver to hold up. He crossed the grass boulevard to meet me. I handed him the bin and waited as he sorted the materials, tossing them into his truck.
The cold concrete was rapidly chilling my feet through my socks. The crisp twenty-degree morning air felt refreshing as I stood there in my flannel pajama pants and thin v-neck t-shirt, but I knew I couldn't stay out very long dressed like that.
A crow in the trees across the street began to caw. I felt he was laughing at the sight of me standing there in the cold. The man handed the bin back to me. I thanked him for waiting and wished him a good day.
While we walked up the front steps, the crow continued to chatter. "Come on, June Bug, let's go get breakfast," I said, opening the porch door.
Inside the porch, I reached for the knob on the front door…dang! Salem and Eve stood on the other side of the glass door, snickering from the living room at the man and the dog that locked themselves out of the house. I was trying to be quiet, "Salem, buddy. Can you open the door?"
"Sorry," he said, holding up his paw, "no opposable thumbs."
It's an awful feeling when you're outside a locked door, with your keys on the other side - especially when it's cold outside and you're wearing pajamas without shoes. I imagined the mail carrier would eventually find my frozen body later in the day.
Fortunately, I had checked the time earlier, so my cell phone was in my pajama pants pocket. I could avoid ringing the doorbell. My daughter Annie was not happy to see me but did come down to let me in.
Annie went back upstairs. June and I went to the kitchen. I enjoyed my oatmeal with peaches and toast made with a slice of homemade bread. June was looking forward to her morning bowl of Iam's mini chunks dog food.
As we ate together in the kitchen, I noticed a flashing yellow light on the side of the neighbor's house to the west. I glanced at the clock on the range. "Wow, the garbage truck is running early, too." I set down my bowl of oatmeal and headed to the back door to get the trash can.
I picked my phone up from the counter to double-check the time. It was an hour fast. "What the heck?" Suddenly it clicked with me, "It's daylight savings time. No wonder everyone is early." I set the phone back down.
My tennis shoes were next to the front door, but there was no time to grab them. "Let's go, June," I said while I fumbled with the knob to open the spring-loaded lock on the back door. I pulled the door shut behind me so the cats wouldn't get out. "I should have taken the trash out last night when I was thinking about it, "I grumbled.
June ran ahead and barked at the trash truck as if to say, "Hold on, Dad's on his way." Each time I stepped on a small stone in my stocking feet, I let out a little curse. "Oochie, ouchie, ouch…." The hollow plastic wheels made a boxy noise as they rolled briskly down the sidewalk.
The engine whirred, then the air brakes hissed and squeaked as the big truck pulled up, stopping in front of our house. I was just rolling around the corner with the can. The man walked over the grass to meet me. My feet were getting cold standing on the concrete while he emptied the can. Then, he finally put the trash can back by the curb, "Have a nice day," he said.
My socks got wet in the frost, crossing the grass to retrieve the can. I pulled it to the back door; June followed. Inside the enclosed porch, I reached for the doorknob. "No way." I saw my phone on the kitchen counter through the glass – on the other side of the locked door.
June and I walked around to the front door. With hope, I reached for the handle – no such luck. Instead, through the glass, I saw Salem and Eve looking at me, snickering, "Sorry, no opposable thumbs," Salem said.
Across the street, the crow chattered in the park. "Caw, caw, caw," he said. "You did it again, didn't you?" Then he flew away laughing to tell his friends. "Caw, caw, caw."
Dawn was just breaking as I rang the doorbell. It's a loud bell with three long brass pipes that resonate a nice tone across the wooden floors and through the house. I heard two feet hit the floor upstairs, "Really, Dad?"
Annie rambled down the steps, unlocked the door, then stomped back up the stairs to her bedroom. She didn't say anything.
The cell phones automatically adjust for the time change; I have to set the other clocks manually. I ran through it aloud, "Fall back. Spring forward. Dude, you're running late for work." I'd have to set the clocks later.
I took a quick shower, got dressed, and ran down the steps. June tried going out the front door with me and trampling over my tennis shoes, kicked one forward into the door jam, which stopped the door from closing.
I pushed the shoe back into the living room with my foot. Then I reached in my pocket for my car keys while explaining, "Bugs, I have to go to work. You need to stay here and guard the house." As I spoke, I felt around my empty pocket. "Good catch, June Bug."
I went back to get my keys off the dining room table, then gave my dog a brisk rub on the head. "Thanks, June. I don't know if Annie would have been so understanding a third time."
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I keep a running list of people I want to mail cookies to, and thet list was growing. I would also be driving my granddaughters to southern Minnesota in a couple of days, and they're always up for Papa's Ginger Crack cookies. So, I baked about eighteen dozen. Then, after hand-delivering several bags of fresh cookies, I packed and mailed five dozen more. I put the rest in a bag to take to Addison and Evelyn.
I met my daughter at work to trade my truck for her car. (It gets better mileage) I moved the things I needed to the car. Then I grabbed the bag with eighteen cookies handing them to Sydney, "Do you want some cookies? You'd better grab a few before the girls get to them, or there may not be any left."
Sydney reached into the bag, laughing, "Ain't that the truth."
On the road trip, the girls each ate four cookies. At our destination, Evelyn asked, "Papa, can we take the cookies with us."
"Sorry babe, those are going home for John." I gave them kisses, and I headed back for Duluth.
I hate returning a car with an empty tank. So, I turned off I-35 at the exit to go to a gas station on Superior Street. They usually have the best fuel price in town. I had to backtrack a few blocks, but it's worth it; I topped off the tank.
Driving east on Superior Street there’s a fork in the road; to the right takes you up the hill to Mesaba Avenue - left continues on Superior to downtown, and I can get on I-35 from there. But, to me, it always feels like going right should keep me on Superior, so that's what I did. "Crap! Wrong-way again." No problem, I can take the first right, go downtown.
I missed the first right turn because it was hiding behind tall snowbanks. So, I took the second…or was it the third turn? Anyway, I made my way downtown, then turned left on Superior. I can get around downtown Duluth, but the unlighted street signs were hard to see in the dark.
"Darn it, that was Fifth. I should have turned right," I said as I cruised through the intersection. "No problem, I'll get on I-35 at Lake Avenue.
A few blocks later, I came to a traffic signal. "Is this Lake? No? Yes?" I was talking to myself. The traffic light turned green before I saw the street sign. I started to go straight, then second-guessing myself; I began to turn right, then straight, then saw the Pizza Luce sign on the corner. "This is Lake Avenue," I said and committed to turning right.
Meanwhile, the oncoming car had no idea what the heck I was doing, and he started to turn left in front of me, then hesitated, then turned anyway. So, we were both turning south on Lake Avenue at the same time. No problem, with two southbound lanes, there was one for each of us.
I needed to move to the left lane; the ramp to I-35 comes up quickly. It was awkward trying to change lanes with the other car over there. I had my signal on, and he backed off to let me over. That was nice of him.
The ramp to I-35 North comes up so quickly it always feels like I'm turning onto the ramp coming off the interstate. If I hesitate and miss the turn, I have to drive into Canal Park to turn around and come back. I almost missed it again tonight but quickly made my turn onto the ramp. That's when the driver of the other car turned on his lights. The red, amber, blue and white were all so pretty and flashy!
With my hands on the wheel at ten and two with open palms, the officer came up to my window. His greeting was unusual, not "Good evening," or "May I see your driver's license?" Instead, "Do you know why I'm standing here outside your window on the side of the road?" For some reason, that struck me as being very funny.
I started laughing. (The cop probably thought I was drunk to boot.) Then, I told him exactly what I did, "Of course I do, but was it my first or second erratic turn that caught your attention? Because whenever I'm going to make a couple of uncoordinated, erratic turns, without signaling, I always do right in front of a cop." By now, the officer was laughing too.
He reminded me, "Don't forget that smooth lane change, too." I started laughing again. "I figured you were just lost but have to make sure you’re safe to be driving." He asked me who owned the car, where I'd been, where I was going, had I been drinking – all the routine questions, then, "Can I see your driver's license?" He took my license and went to his patrol car.
While I waited, I started laughing alone again about the whole situation. Although my turns were not pretty, I didn't do anything illegal other than failing to signal; I doubted he would write me a citation for that. He was just checking to make sure I wasn't drunk, and rightfully so. That's his job, and my driving display did give cause for suspicion.
The officer handed me my license, "At least you weren't speeding this time." Hmph. He must have checked my driving history.
After telling me to drive safely and have a good night, he turned away. "Hey, wait a minute," I called out to him. I reached across the seat and offered him the bag of cookies I had saved for John. "Here, I want you to have these."
"For what," he asked?
"For pulling me over and doing your job. I appreciate you keeping the streets of Duluth safe." I was being sincere.
"That's okay, you don't have to do that," he said, politely declining. But I saw the way he looked at those cookies.
"No, seriously. I want you to have them," I said, reaching further out the window, "One good turn deserves another." He commented on my turns not being so good, and we shared a laugh about that. "Seriously if you don't take them, I'm going to leave the bag of cookies here on the side of the road. Don't make me litter!"
He thanked me, took the cookies, and went to his car. For all I know, he may have thrown them away to keep me from littering, but I hoped he would enjoy them. I'd hate to think I gave away John's cookies for nothing.
I turned off London Road, heading to my daughter's house. A teenager was standing at the end of a driveway in the T intersection. I was going to drive by, but it was cold and dark, and she looked distraught. As I turned right, I noticed the car was off the driveway, in the snow. I rolled down my window and backed up. "Are you stuck?" She said that she was and seemed happy when I offered to help. I didn’t mind lending a hand, I was having a good night, and one good turn deserves another.
A second teenage girl got out of the driver's seat. "I must have turned the wheel the wrong way, and my car kind of slid into the snow," she explained. "We tried to dig it out, but it won’t move."
Three aluminum scoop shovels were standing upright in the snow to the side. They had cleared a lot of snow trying to free the car, but it was still in deep. Snow was up against the passenger side and under the vehicle. Both front tires were in ruts where she'd spun the tires trying to get out. We weren't going to get the car unstuck without a lot more digging.
Pointing to my car, I said, "This is my daughter's car, and I can't use it to get you out. But I'm going to get my truck at her house, just a few blocks from here. I have chains and everything we'll need to get your car out of the snowbank. I'll come back in a few minutes, and pull you out."
I returned a few minutes later. There was a third teenager with them now. "Look," she said, pointing to the car with excitement. "We got it to move quite a bit."
"I see that," I said, "That's awesome." Unfortunately, the car was on a slight slope, and they only moved it deeper into the snowbank. I couldn't get around them in the narrow driveway to pull the car forward with my chain, and I didn't want to pull it back any deeper into the snow and chance damaging their car. The bumper of my truck and her car lined up well.
I folded a packing blanket into a small thick square, handing it to one of the girls. "I'm going to push you out of the snow. I don't want to scratch my truck, or your car, so hold this here.” I showed her where I wanted the blanket. “I'll pull forward slowly until I pinch the blanket between the bumpers.
With the blanket positioned as a buffer, I told the girl driving, "Put your car in neutral, and I'll push you forward."
"Do you want me to put it in drive and give it some gas to help," she asked?
"Nope. You just steer the car to the middle of the driveway. I'll do the rest." She got in her car. I made sure my truck was in four-wheel drive, and checked to ensure no one was in front of her. Then I called out the window, "Straighten your wheels."
I started forward slow and easy. My truck had no problem pushing the small car until it rolled freely out of deep snow. I stopped, "Put it in park," I said, then backed away from her car.
I got out of my truck and picked up the blanket. The driver got out of her car. The three girls gave grinning looks and glances to one another as if to silently say, "We did it! We did it." I felt like once I left, they would cut loose and do a victory dance. That’s what I would have done when I was sixteen.
I looked at the passenger side of their car. "It doesn't look like you hurt it at all," I said with a reassuring smile. "Clean all the snow out of your wheel rims; otherwise, they'll shake when you drive."
The driver looked at me with relief, "Thank you so much for stopping to help us."
"No problem at all," I said and wished them a good night.
I backed out of their driveway. As I pulled away, the three girls were in the driveway waving. I gave a couple of toots on the horn and drove away smiling. I felt good about my good deed.
A lot had happened in a thirty-minute time frame, and it all started with a couple of non-typical turns downtown. Granted, they weren't pretty turns, but they got the job done. After all, one good turn...
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Our house in Winona, Minnesota, sat on the corner of Baker and Broadway streets. The house was brown with darker brown trim. Unfortunately, the houses on either side and several more places nearby were also the same color. So boring! There must have been a sale on brown house paint when all this happened.
The old brown paint was faded, chipped and peeling. We planned to give the house a whole new look that would stand out in the neighborhood. When people drove past, they would say, "Now that's a beautiful home." But, unfortunately, before repainting, we decided to sell the house.
Brenda, our realtor, raved about the home's interior; its soft, warm colors and beautiful hardwood floors were inviting to all who entered. "What are you going to do with the outside of the house," she asked?
It was almost September, nearing the end of the house buying season, and my schedule was full. I didn't see where I would find time to paint the house. I told Brenda, "We'll give the buyers a five-thousand-dollar painting allowance; they can have it painted whatever color they'd like."
"That's not a good idea," Brenda said, then explained, "The interior of the house is beautiful, but I can't sell the house if I can't get prospective buyers inside."
"We'll leave the curtains open," I replied in jest. But, having just met Brenda, she wasn't sure how to take my sense of humor.
"First impressions and curb appeal are everything," Brenda said. "The exterior paint will drive potential buyers away. People want a house where everything's finished and ready to move in." I tried to reason that the interior was ready to move in, but my wife sided with the realtor.
Brenda and Melissa started talking about colors. Meanwhile, I started trying to figure out how I would make time to paint the house in the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a professional house painter on such short notice, but I still made a few calls.
A day later, I got a call from a painting company. He had a job cancellation and could start our house on Saturday. Unfortunately, we'd be out of town that day. "No problem," he assured, "Just pick your colors, and we'll take it from there. Perfect! We gave him a deposit and shook hands.
We chose a soft, buttery shade of yellow at the paint store. With white trim, it would look great, and it would be the only yellow house in the neighborhood. So, with that decision made, we loaded the car and headed out for the weekend.
While we were driving home Sunday, Brenda called. "I just drove by your house," she said. "Please tell me you're not painting your house that color." Melissa and I were taken aback by her comment. We thought it was a pretty color. We told Brenda we'd get back to her.
It was nearing sunset when we turned north onto Baker Street. As we got closer to home, we were nearly blinded by the extremely bright sun in front of us. "Wait a minute; we're going north; the sun sets in the west." I was confused.
Melissa, also blinded by the same intense phenomenon before us, blurted out, "Good Lord! That's our house!" We were shocked. "They must have got the wrong color paint!"
Before us was an obnoxiously bright, neon yellow house, like lemon-twist yellow, but worse! The sight of it made my mouth pucker as if I'd been sucking on a lemon slice.
Melissa called Brenda to assure her this was not the color we ordered. I called the painter and told him to stop painting until we talked. Monday morning, I met Ray.
Ray was an old hippy who worked for the contractor. He had a laid-back demeanor and an appreciation for everything in life. I liked him right away and he was very knowledgeable about painting. Unfortunately, the three-quarter by two-inch sample didn't represent its final appearance when applied to a house.
Ray was an artist who also painted houses for the past fifty-plus years. "House painting pays the bills," he said. "Art is hit and miss. I gotta eat, man. You know what I mean?"
Considering his wisdom, I had to ask: "Ray, when you saw the color of this paint, did it occur to you to call the homeowner and make sure this is what they wanted?"
"No way, man. I never question anyone's taste," he said. Ray moved his open hand through the air, making an arch. "The rainbow's hues are infinite, brother; there's someone who loves every shade in the spectrum." He looked at me as if I should feel what he said rather than hear his words.
Still, I challenged Ray, "But lemon-twist yellow? That didn't raise any red flags?"
Ray looked deep, "I think this color is pretty, man. You don't like it?" I assured him we did not, at least not on the house. I told him we'd be changing the color, knowing it would understandably cost us more. "Whatever you want, man. I just swing the brush. You know what I mean?"
Being gun-shy of anything yellow, Melissa and I opted for a new color scheme: Cavern Moss Green with Adobe White trim. The problem was that I now couldn't get ahold of the contractor.
A few days later, I ran into Ray in a store. I told him I couldn't get ahold of his boss, "He's not returning my phone calls."
"He's an old friend of mine," Ray said, "but he can be kind of shady, too. If I don't get paid at the end of the day, I don't come back tomorrow. You get me, brother?" I asked Ray if he would paint the house if I paid him. "No way, man. I was just trying to help my friend. I'm getting too old to be painting two-story houses."
Ray gave me some advice. "If you want your house painted before it snows, you better get on the ladder and do it yourself. You know what I mean, man?" I fully understood everything Ray was saying. I had to change many things at work, but the house painting was complete about a week later.
Brenda stood on the sidewalk with a realtor's yard sign. "Now, this is a beautiful home." Brenda had the house sold in a couple of weeks.
Before I set out to paint the house myself, I ran into an old friend and artist, Richard Dutton.
Richard was an art history instructor at Indian Hills Community College. He also taught painting, drawing, and other art-related courses. He was an amazing artist – his watercolors were spectacular.
I told him about my issue, "I can't believe Ray didn't call to make sure we wanted that wild color."
Richard was wearing a fiddler's cap, an open collar shirt, and a tweed sports coat. He smiled, "Why would he call you? It was the color you picked, right?" He had me there. Richard explained, "There are a lot of colors in the rainbow; there's somebody out there to love each one of them."
I asked Richard if he was still painting. "Yes, sir," he replied. I wondered if he would like to come to Minnesota to paint my house. "I'm not a house painter," he said. But I argued in jest, insisting he was.
"You painted Mom and Dad's house." (In 1983, Mom commissioned Richard to paint our farmhouse, which became a famous painting within our family.)
Richard smiled, "Thomas, I did that painting because I liked your mom. There's a big difference between painting a house and a painting OF a house. Besides, watercolors don't hold up well in the weather – especially Minnesota's harsh weather." We shared a good laugh about that.
Years later, Melissa and I had moved to northern Minnesota, where we bought a house to remodel – inside and out. One day I called Richard, "How would you like to paint my house for me?"
"Are we really going to have that conversation again," he asked, laughing. I explained that I had planned to have our house done by Melissa's birthday. But unfortunately, I had overestimated my ability and was so far behind schedule there was no way it would happen.
I explained, "I commissioned a local artist to paint a picture of our house as it would be when finished. They had six months to do it and kept assuring me they would have it done on time. Then, three days before Melissa's birthday, they bailed on the project, saying, 'I can't visualize what I'm supposed to be painting.'" I asked Richard if he could help me out.
Richard liked Melissa, referring to her as one of his many favorite students. I knew she also held him in the highest regard. "Richard, I don't think a twenty-dollar Walmart gift certificate would mean as much to Melissa as having a Richard Dutton painting of our home." I was really buttering him up.
Richard had questions: "When's her birthday?"
"May twelfth," I replied.
"That's in three days," he said. "Why can't you have the house painted by then?"
"Because it's still snowing here in May," I justified.
"Tom, I've told you before, I'm not a house painter," Richard said, then sighed. "But I'll do this because I like your bride." We shared a good laugh about that then discussed the details.
I emailed Richard a photo of the house from the angle I wanted. The picture showed an absolute construction zone. The house covered in white house rap lacked a front door, and there was no siding. The yard and driveway were a muddy mess. "This is what you want me to paint," he questioned? "Would you like me to fix the ruts in the driveway?"
"Yes," I replied, "But I also need you to install the front door and the siding. Then, put in the new garage doors, and landscape the yard." Richard kept laughing. "While you're at it, build the steps on the front porch, and can you pour a concrete driveway and sidewalk?"
"Now I have to finish building the house, too?" Richard chuckled sarcastically, "I'll see what I can do." I felt better knowing he was on the job. "What color is the house going to be," he asked.
"Cavern Moss Green with Adobe White trim." I sent him a photo of our Winona house. "It's the same colors I wanted you to paint our house a few years ago." We shared another laugh about that.
A couple of weeks later, the painting arrived. I planned a special dinner that night and presented the framed artwork to Melissa. She loved it. Her face really lit up when she saw in the bottom right corner, 'R. Dutton.' "Mr. Dutton painted this?" I knew right then I had given her the best birthday present. Even though it was belated, she hung it on the wall of our (unfinished) north shore home and would treasure this for years to come, as the house progressed around it.
For my sixtieth birthday, Melissa contacted Richard and purchased a painting called Lake Wapello Trail. Although he painted this award-winning piece in southern Iowa, the scene looks very similar to a road near Devilfish Lake, out on the Arrowhead Trail near Hovland. One of our favorite camping and canoeing spots.
I suspect other people along the north shore may have some of Richard's paintings, too, as he's participated in Plein Air events in Grand Marais.
I was saddened to learn that Richard had recently passed away. I cannot fathom how many lives he's touched as a teacher, an artist, and a friend. Let alone as a husband, father, and grandfather.
Although he will be dearly missed by so many, I will always envision his round glasses, mustache, and mischievous grin. He would want us to remember him and smile rather than mourn. Richard would encourage us to always seek joy and beauty in life.
When sunlight reflects through raindrops, it creates a beautiful rainbow; therefore, it must be watercolors. Whenever I see one, I will look for the end of the rainbow; not seeking a pot of gold, but to see if I might find a signature: R. Dutton.