Two elderly gentlemen stood on the walk near the front door of Super One Foods, in Two Harbors, Minnesota. The ornery look on both their faces told me I should slow down and do a little eavesdropping. Maybe, I would learn something today.
The man headed in was pushing two small shopping carts; one carrying his green re-usable grocery bag. He was wearing a green plaid long sleeve shirt, buttoned all the way to the top and tucked into his perfectly pressed blue jeans. A handsome fellow, he sported a grey tweed Gatsby cap.
The other man, heading out, was wearing khaki pants with tennis shoes, a faded Minnesota Vikings windbreaker, zipped all the way up, and a worn tan fedora.
“I don’t know why everyone thinks I’m 98.” said the man wearing his team’s logo, “I’m only 91 - born in 1927.” He explained. The second man, in the plaid shirt, said, “It’s because you’re just an old bag of dust. That’s why they think you’re 98.” They shared a good laugh together.
“What about you? Aren’t you the same age as me?” Asked the man in purple and gold, of his friend. Defending his youthful age, the second man replied, “Heck no, I’m not nearly that old! I’m only 89.” The first man laughed, “Well, what are you talking about? You’re just an old bag of dust yourself!” The men shared another hearty laugh, followed by a series of dry coughs.
“Well, I gotta go.” Said the first man, explaining, “My boy already went to the car. These kids just ain’t got the energy our generation has.” I smiled thinking to myself, “If he’s 91, his boy is probably 70 or so.” They said their farewells. The first man shuffled off toward the parking lot.
I stepped ahead of the second man with the green plaid shirt, who was going into the store. I waved my hand for the sensor and the big panes of glass glided off to their respective sides. “Here, allow me to get the door for you.” I said, motioning for him to go before me.
“You’re just like me.” The man chuckled, “I always offer to get the door, too, but I only do it for the ladies!” We shared a good laugh. “Well, you seem like quite the gentleman.” I said, adding, “I’ll bet the ladies really go for you.” “Yes, they do.” He said, laughing, then asked, “So you like boys, huh?” He began roaring with laughter as he pushed his carts into the vestibule with a bit of a spring in his step. It didn’t seem he was going to give me time to reply.
I’m glad I wasn’t drinking anything when he said that, as the beverage surely would have come through my nose! It took me a moment to join him in laughter as I followed him inside.
“Here. You want a basket?” He asked, pushing one my way. “I always bring in two from the parking lot.” He explained, “One for me and one to help the kid that has to bring them all in.”
I took the cart and thanked him, then, pushing the small cart with the rest, I pulled out a big one. The man stood, watching as I did this. “A big cart? So you’re married, eh?” He said, laughing as he headed inside the store.
Later, when I told my wife this story she said, “You should have told him, ‘Yes, I’m married. His name is George, but I never let my husband do the shopping.”’ That made me laugh. Normally, I would have had such come back, but I was caught off guard by his original question. I’ve never been asked if I liked boys, let alone by a man of his age.
Inside, I made my way down aisle five, looking for lasagna noodles. There was a young couple with two kids in a racecar shopping cart and a third pushing his own miniature cart. They were standing in front of the pasta sauce in this same aisle.
The oldest kid was reaching for a jar at eye level on the second shelf. “Not that one. Get two from the bottom, honey.” His mom said, pointing to the spaghetti sauce on the bottom shelf. The kid did exactly as he was told.
While mom looked at something behind her, he grabbed the very bottom jar; the jars stacked on top of it tumbled to the floor. Then he went for a second jar from the bottom, knocking down even more jars! In all, two jars of sauce were in his cart, while seven jars rolled freely about the aisle.
His dad started to scold him, “Pick them up!” He demanded in a cross voice, but made no effort to help the kid. I retrieved two of the jars that came my way. I handed them to the boy who was on his knees gathering the others. “Here you go, partner.” I said to him. He took the jars one at a time. Looking down toward the floor, in a soft, ashamed voice he replied, “Thank you.” “It’s okay,” I said to reassure him, “There’s no harm done. None of them broke.”
I smiled at his dad and asked, “When did they start putting Paul Newman spaghetti sauce in a plastic jar?” The dad grumbled something. Obviously, he didn’t want to be at the store. I said, “If this is the worst thing that happens to you today, then you’ve had a pretty good day, friend!” He gave me a less than pleasant grin and said, “Yeah, right.” I moved on down the aisle, thinking to myself, “What a jerk.”
Several items later I was in the main aisle that runs down the middle of the store, perpendicular to the grocery aisles. An older lady was looking over the display of specially priced cereals. I grabbed a box of Cheerios, placing it in my cart. Nodding toward her smaller grocery cart, I asked, “Do you want to race that thing?” She scowled at me and replied, “Don’t be a smart aleck!”
I smiled at her and wheeled my way back toward the dairy section. I needed sour cream - and speaking of sour, how about her attitude, huh? I began wondering if some place in the store there was a kiosk where they were handing out free samples of grouch biscuits!
I grabbed my dairy goods and headed for the checkouts. Oops, I forgot to get bananas and strawberries.
Back in the produce section, I again came across the little boy and his family. They were by the bananas. I was standing by the strawberries. With a small bunch of bananas in his cart, the grumpy dad said to the boy, “We need more bananas than that.” The kid grabbed a few more small bunches of bananas, two or three in each, placing them one at a time in his little cart, until the dad complained, “Why didn’t you just get one big bunch instead of all those little ones?” The kid reached for a larger bunch, and the dad snapped, “Put those back. You don’t need any more.”
I thought if I could get the dad to smile, maybe he’d lighten up on the kid. “You never want to put all your eggs in one basket.” I said, then offered, “So, it’s probably safer not to keep all your bananas in one bunch.” The dad didn’t say anything, but gave me another look of distaste. I smiled, put my strawberries in my cart and moved on.
I clearly wasn’t going to make him smile - not today anyway. I guess some people just want to be miserable, but did he have to spread his misery to the young boy?
Walking down the center aisle toward the checkout lanes, I passed the man in the green plaid shirt. He no longer had his cart, instead he was carrying a basket with just a few items, and his green reusable grocery bag.
“Where’d your cart go?” I asked him. “Well, I guess I didn’t need as much as I thought, so I traded the cart for a basket.” He said. I grinned, “Did your date for tonight cancel?” “No,” he chuckled, “She’s taking me out for dinner and she’s buying.” He replied. We shared a good laugh, then each went our separate ways. He one-upped me again!
I paid for, and bagged, my goods, then placed the full sacks in my cart. I pushed it out to my car and loaded the bags into the back seat. While returning my cart to the corral, I saw the lady from the cereal display walking out the front doors. I thought about saying something to her, but felt it may be better if she was left alone. It’s like poking a hornet’s nest and getting away with it - you’d best not give it another poke. I kept quiet and returned to my car.
She passed me while I was backing out of my parking space. I pulled forward a bit until she was right alongside my car. I couldn’t resist. I lowered my passenger side window to challenge her, “I’ll race you to your car!” She gave me a scowling look and kept walking.
Just ahead, a van was backing out from his parking space. It was one of those big Ford Transit vans with the high top, extra long, and no back windows at all. Assuming he could see me, I stopped to let him out.
Behind the van on the opposite side of the lane, was a full-size, four door Dodge dually pickup with a long bed. He was parked at an angle, taking two spaces and his rear end was still sticking out from his space. The van was so long the driver had to do some maneuvering and wiggling to get out.
I didn’t see where the older gal went; she must have passed behind the van with her cart. She was standing with a now empty grocery cart at the end of a Buick waiting to greet me. She positioned her thumbs on each side of her head, with her fingers all stretched out. I looked at her; I was puzzled wondering, “Is she giving me...she is! She’s giving me moose antlers!” I started laughing out loud!
As I passed her, she scrunched up her face, stuck out her tongue, and went, “pftttthhhh!” while wiggling her fingers. She won the race fair and square. I conceded, giving her a couple congratulatory toots on the horn and waving with approval. Well played, ma’am. Very well played!
Pulling onto the street from the parking lot, I zipped up to the intersection hitting the light’s green! “This has been a good day!” I said, turning left onto Highway 61, heading for home.
I thought about the two gentlemen, the little boy and his dad, and the lady. The man in the plaid shirt outwitted me. I wasn’t going to break the dad’s foul mood, and the lady beat me in a race when she was on foot, and I was driving my car.
As I came to the last intersection in Two Harbors, I smiled, rolling through the green light. I may not have won a single match today, but I did hit all the lights green going through town - and second place isn’t so bad!
“Darn it.” I said aloud. “I was standing right there...I got the strawberries, but forgot to put bananas in my cart.” Oh well. Now I have a reason to go back to the grocery store tomorrow.
With applications sent out to various school districts, Annie had been packing her household for weeks getting ready for the inevitable move. When she accepted a teaching position at a rural district, she set out on her own to Mason City, Iowa to find an apartment; picking a place without the assistance of her parents - without her dad’s help.
I was so proud of her and at the same time found myself wallowing in a bit of self pity. She’s all grown up now, maybe she doesn’t need her dad anymore. Then came the call, “When can you come help me move, Dad?” she asked. I smiled. Maybe I’ve still got it - this Dad thing. “We can come down Sunday, after church.” I told her.
I called U-haul to reserve a trailer and found out that there weren’t any U-haul stores open along our route to pick up on Sunday. We would have to get the trailer in Duluth and pull it down to Winona. I priced multiple options; whether to bring it back to Duluth, taking advantage of the local rental discounts, or pay more to drop it off in Mason City or Waterloo. I told the operator I would have to check some things and call back.
We would need the trailer for two days. A local rental would be $60 for two days, $90 to leave it in Mason City, or $119 in Waterloo; which would be handy as I could use the trailer to help our oldest daughter, Sydney, with a project. You know that old adage; two birds, one stone.
I called U-haul back. The kid on the line confirmed the various prices being held in the “quote” file for a one-way rental. “And how much if I return it to Duluth?” I asked. “$139,” he told me. He threw down the gauntlet - I accepted his challenge. The U-haul sparring began.
“It can not possibly be more to return it to Duluth.” I said. He confirmed, “Yeah, it is. It will be $139.” “There is no way. If I pick up and return the same place, it’s a local rental at $30 per day.” I explained. “That’s not what my screen says.” He replied. Frustrated, I said, “Well, clean your screen because it’s wrong.” He started babbling on, trying to explain the logic behind the pricing structure, then said, “Oh, you’re right. It would only be $30 per day.” Ugh.
“And to leave it in Mason City?” I asked. He confirmed, “$90 if you leave it in Mason City, Iowa.” I crunched the numbers quickly to calculate the difference in additional fuel cost to return the trailer to Duluth.
“Okay, let’s reserve the trailer to be picked up in Duluth, Minnesota, and dropped off in Mason City, Iowa, by noon on Tuesday.” I said. He repeated the order, gathered some additional information, then said, “...and your total will be $146.” “It was $90 to Mason City.” I reminded him. “Well, the price went up.” He replied. “It’s the best I can do.”
I hate when they play these games. Two supervisors later, I reserved the trailer for $90. I was on the phone with them for over an hour. I guess I’ve still got it; the ability to get through the U-haul process without getting jacked on price - it just takes a little longer.
Sunday came, and we drove to Winona where we loaded the trailer. It took a little longer than I expected, but the help Annie lined up didn’t come through. It was just Melissa, Annie, and myself. I was pleased with the way the girls were able to help move the heavy furniture.
Annie had to be in Mason City the next morning to meet the cable provider who would hook up her Internet. She had the standard appointment, “Between eight a.m. and noon.” I didn’t want to get up at five in the morning, so we drove to Mason City after the trailer was loaded, Sunday night.
The next morning we were up and at it early, moving Annie into her new building...to her third floor apartment! First, we carried in boxes and totes of books...to the third floor. After lots of trips up and down the steps I was feeling it a bit in my legs and back. I told Melissa, “I guess I’m not thirty anymore.”
Inside the main door to the building is a split foyer; to the right, seven steps went down to the first floor and to the left, seven steps up to the second floor. There was a wall a few feet inside the door to divide the stairwells.
Once on the second floor, there were seven steps going up to a landing where you turned and went seven more steps to the third floor. A wrought-iron railing divided the upper stairs. With each load I kept envisioning how much work it was going to be to clear this obstacle course with the big stuff.
The couch was next. By removing the feet and turning it to just the right angle - an angle making it nearly impossible to hold the long, slippery, leather couch - we were able to squeeze through the door. We had to stand the couch on end to clear the intrusive black railing and turn the corner on the landing. Finally on the third floor, we had to carry the couch at the impossible angle to clear the door going into her apartment. Once it was inside, I flopped down on the sofa to rest. I told Melissa, “I guess I’m not forty anymore.”
The mattress, although bulky, wasn’t so bad because it bends a little. The box spring, dresser, entertainment center and desk, do not. When we finally had everything moved into her apartment, I sat down, exhausted. I looked at Melissa and said, “I guess I’m not fifty anymore. I can really feel it in my muscles.” Then I smiled and said, “On a happier note, I’ve still got it - the ability to move big furniture to a third floor. It just takes a little longer than it used to.”
We finished at 11:40 and we were all ready for lunch! “What about the cable company?” Melissa asked. Annie called to find out if they were on their way. An operator told her, “A technician will be there by noon.” Annie replied, “That’s now.” The surprised operator said, “Oh, I guess it is. I’ll call dispatch to find out where they are.” Annie was placed on hold. When the operator returned, I could tell by the look on her face, Annie was getting the standard cable company run-a-round.
After holding again for a period of time, the operator returned. Whatever she said, Annie’s response was, “I don’t have another four hours to keep waiting on you guys to show up.” Then she asked, “And that’s the best you can do?”
With the operator still on the line, Annie told me, “They’re now saying I wasn’t actually scheduled until next Monday, on the eighteenth, but they can come Wednesday between noon and five.” I motioned for Annie to give me the phone.
“Hi, this is Tom - Annie’s Dad. What’s the problem?” The operator explained the same thing she told Annie, “I’m sorry, Wednesday isn’t going to work.” I said, then she suggested the eighteenth. “I’m sorry, that’s not acceptable.” Next the operator suggested the twenty-ninth. Again I said, “That’s not acceptable. Annie was told today, and has an order confirmation. You need to send your service tech here today.” There was a pause, then the operator told me, “She is not going to have service installed today. Rescheduling is the best I can do.”
Polite, but firmly, I told the operator. “We planned this day to move our daughter based on when your company could install her service. I’m driving over seven hundred miles to meet your schedule. You need to have someone here today.” In a bit more irritated tone of voice, she said, “It’s not going to happen today. Rescheduling her appointment is the best I can do, so what do you want to do?”
I paused, then calmly answered, “I want to speak to your supervisor.” She started to say, “You’re not going to get...” I interrupted her, “Excuse me. You just told me you cannot help me, so there is nothing more for you and I to talk about. I wish to speak to your supervisor.” She started to say “Sir, you...” I stopped her again, “Now, please.” There was a slight pause. She didn’t sound very sincere when she said, “Hold the line, please.” with a sarcastic emphasis on please.
After explaining everything to the supervisor, a few more minutes of conversation and holding time, I said, “Thank you. I appreciate your efforts to make this right.” I hung up the phone. Melissa and Annie were both staring at me, waiting for the outcome. “They’ll be here before five-o-clock today.”
I guess I’ve still got it - the ability to handle these cable companies who feel their time is valuable and yours is not. I won’t accept it when they act like you should feel grateful that they are even allowing you to subscribe to their service.
We went to lunch. Afterwards, Melissa and I headed on to Waterloo. My son-in-law, Jordan, and I loaded the trailer with boards, brush, drywall scraps, metal, fencing, and other stuff they had been piling up for a landfill trip. Because he had jury duty the next day, I agreed to drive to the landfill and empty the trailer alone.
With a quick call to U-Haul they told me I could leave the trailer in Waterloo without an additional charge. I liked that. It took a lot of pressure off me by not having to drive back to Mason City before noon.
Jordan’s jury duty was cancelled for the day, so he went to work. I was getting ready to go dump the trailer, but didn’t know where I was going so I texted him, “Addy for the Landfill?” He replied, “If you want to, move her seat.” Confused, I wrote, “That makes no sense at all.” He explained, “Take her seat out of the van and put it in the truck.” I busted out laughing, then replied, “Bahahaha! I meant I need an address for the landfill. OMGosh.” His next text read, “Oh. Haha, ok one sec.” then followed up with the address.
I told Sydney about the series of texts, explaining, “He thought I was asking if I could take Addie (our granddaughter) to the landfill with me. All I wanted was the street address.” I was laughing over the misunderstanding. Sydney looked at me and said, “Dad, people don’t use the term addy anymore.” “They don’t?” I asked, a bit surprised. “Not really,” she said, explaining, “Not since texting pretty much replaced email in like 2000.” Well, I learned something new!
At the landfill, I emptied the trailer. It took a little longer than it used to, but I was working alone. As I drove away, I thought about the misunderstanding with Jordan, then started chuckling to myself. I’ve still got it - the ability to communicate with this younger generation - it just takes a little longer.
Our youngest daughter recently accepted her first teaching position in a rural Iowa school district. This morning we are in Mason City, Iowa, helping her move into her new apartment.
It’s a third floor apartment, no elevator, with an average size stairwell, but all stairwells seem too narrow when moving a large couch. I find myself asking, “Why did they need to put turns in the stairs?” There should be a law that all stairwells with turns have to be five feet wide. Maybe six - or a service elevator Yes, that’s it, an elevator. Mattresses will bend a little, to make the corners, but a box spring and dressers don’t give at all.
While pondering my strategy for the move, I drifted off, thinking about a story I wrote awhile back - it includes things that bend, and others that don’t. I hope you enjoy it:
An inchworm and a firetruck don’t have a lot in common.
The firetruck is big and shiny red. The inchworm is small and a dull green.
The firetruck has big black shiny tires that roll smoothly down the street. The inchworm has tiny, grabby feet that cling to everything.
The firetruck is loud and thunderous; shaking the earth when it goes by. The inchworm silently moves along its way.
The firetruck is strong and powerful. The inchworm fragile and delicate.
The firetruck has a long rigid body, mounted on big beams of steel, somewhat limiting its mobility. The inchworm has a flexible body, with a hump that goes up and down. It can turn in very tight spaces allowing it to go wherever it wants.
The firetruck can’t pop wheelies. The inchworm can stand straight up, on its back feet or show off and stand on its front feet, body straight up in the air behind it.
The inchworm avoids fire and danger. The firetruck bravely charges into danger.
An upside down firetruck has a serious problem. The inchworm, however, travels just as well, upside down or right side up.
The firetruck has several passengers. The inchworm travels alone.
The firetruck and the inchworm have one thing in common. When either one goes by, you have to stop and watch it. It’s like an unwritten law.
It just takes longer to watch the inchworm pass by.
I better get started, although this couch and much of the furniture has legs, none of it is going to walk itself into this apartment.
We got home late last night, around 11:30. It was good to be home; to sleep in my own bed after three weeks on the road.
This morning I pulled the patio furniture out from storage. We enjoyed our first morning coffee of the year on the deck and discussed how the grass needed to be cut. During our coffee time, two finches came by to bathe in the birdbath.
Melissa went inside to fetch a pitcher of water. She washed out the basin, then filled it with clean water. Since our water is from a well, it’s not chlorinated. The birds like that, and it wasn’t long until another finch came by to splash about in the cool water.
Later I mowed our yard. After sitting through the winter the John Deere, had three flat tires, a dead battery and the blades need to be sharpened. It had plenty of white polka dots left by birds, on the green hood and yellow seat. On a brighter note, it had one good tire, it jump started easily and the blades were good enough to get me by this time.
The lawn really wasn’t that bad - more shaggy than tall. There were some patches that were about nine inches tall, mostly around the septic tank. As will happen when cutting the grass for the first time of the season, I came across critters that have claimed homestead; living in that taller grass.
I let the snake slither away unscathed. I told the mice and voles, “You better run for your life! If the mower doesn’t get you, that snake will - and the ravens will take what he misses!”
I let off the gas when I saw something hopping in the grass. A big fat handsome toad - well, as handsome as a toad can be.
An old 70’s song immediately started playing in my mind: Jim Stafford, I Don’t Like Spiders and Snakes. Especially the part where he sings, “I got silly and I found a frog, in the water by a hollow log, and I shook it at her and said, ‘This frogs for you!’” I had an idea.
I turned off the mower and chased that toad. Picking him up in my right hand I assured him, “I’m not going to hurt you, little fella. I just need you to help me with a little fun.”
We went in through the kitchen door - the toad and me. “Melissa,” I called, “Can you come to the kitchen.” She replied, concerned, “What is it? Are you okay? Did you injure yourself?” What a vote of confidence. “No I didn’t injure myself. I’m fine, I just need you to come to the kitchen.”
She called out with her second concern, “You didn’t run over a family of baby bunnies, did you?” “No I didn’t run over any bunnies. Just come out here.”
Melissa walked into the kitchen. I was holding my hand behind my back. When she got within arms length, I presented the toad. I shook it at her and I said, “This frog’s for you!” I laughed my fool head off!
Melissa, looking directly into the big eyes of the little amphibian about four inches from her face, screamed! The toad screamed, then wet himself in my hand. June jumped up to see if it was something that could be used to play catch. Edgar sat on the kitchen bench unimpressed with it all and said, “People are so weird.”
I started to run for the door, with the toad. Once a safe distance from the angry woman, I asked, “Do you like it?” “It’s not even a frog - that’s a toad, now get it out of this house!” “But I got him for you...” I pleaded. “Out! Now!” It didn’t seem like she was going to change her mind, so we left - me and the toad.
I took him outside and set him on the edge of the birdbath. “You might want to stay up here while I finish mowing.” I told him. He sniffed the water. “Hey, the water isn’t chlorinated!” He said. “Nope. It’s well water.” I replied. He smiled. “I like that.”
As I finished mowing, with each pass I kept looking over at the birdbath. The toad was still there, just watching me. When I was done I put the mower away, then went back to check on the toad. He was gone.
Most likely he found his way back to his home. From the taller grass between the septic tank lids where the mower doesn’t reach, I heard a small voice telling someone, or some other critter, “After an ordeal like that, it’s good to be home.”
I climbed the steps up onto the deck where I found the kitchen door locked. I must have bumped the lock in my hurry to get out. I walked to the front door, it was locked too. Hmm. The garage door was also locked and the spare key wasn’t in it’s hiding place.
I returned to the front porch and knocked on the door, “Honey?” There was no answer. I knocked again, a tad bit louder, “Honey! The doors are all locked...Melissa? Sweetie? Are you in there?”
It’s good to be home.
a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!