I am so sorry for what happened to you.
Although we never met in person, I knew you. Through social media, newspapers, radio, and television, I learned who you were. A happy person who was kind to everyone and helped whenever and wherever you could. A girl with ideas, hopes and dreams. A young woman with a bright and promising future. A small town girl on your way to doing great things; to make a difference. A compassionate soul, you loved, and were loved.
Sadly, I learned your name and came to recognize your face from pictures and advertisements posted by people getting the word out that everyone should look for you. Wanting to help, I looked for you, too.
In my travels about the country, I looked for you at every truck stop and gas station; every rest area and motel; every cafe and restaurant. I kept an eye out for you in grocery stores and in passing cars. In big cities and small towns; even places that were no longer anything more than a name on a map; a crossroad where travelers pass through. I looked for you, Mollie, but I could not find you. You were not there.
I dreamed that I might find you and stay by your side, offering you protection, while waiting for help to arrive. You see, Mollie, you were my daughter, too.
From the moment it was made known that you were missing, you became the daughter of every father who heard your story. Every mother claimed you as their own daughter and every son and daughter saw you as their sister. All questioned, “What if Mollie was my daughter?” Or, “What if she was my sister?” We were all looking for you. But we could not find you.
I listened for you, hoping to hear your voice calling out, “Here I am.” But I could not hear you; your voice had been silenced by one who meant you harm. When I heard your body was found, my heart broke. The search was over, but did not end the way we hoped nor envisioned. There would be no joyful reunion with your family. Along with so many others, my tears fell.
As fathers, we grieved with your dad, asking, “Why? Where did I fail you? What more could I have done? Should I have done more to protect you?” Mothers sobbed and mourned with your mom, wondering, “Why my child? She was my innocent baby.” Brothers and sister cried, “Why? She never hurt anyone. She didn’t deserve this.” We wept as individuals, and together as your family. You were too young to be taken away.
Only God knows when each of us will depart this world. Some will question, “Where was God during all of this? Why didn’t He save you?” In truth, He did.
At the very deepest, darkest moment in your life, when you were hurting the most, He reached His hands to you, softly calling, “Come to Me, Mollie.” He freed you from your torment; lifting you from the grip of your assailant. Taking you into His arms, holding you close to His chest, He brushed your tears away. Your crying subsided, giving way to His consolation, comfort and peace. Your broken body healed; your suffering over; no one can hurt you ever again.
I am sorry for what was done to you, Mollie. In disbelief that such a thing could happen, I still find myself looking for you, as do others. Now we know where to find you: safe and free on a path where angels trod. Fly high, dear child. Fly high.
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Tom can be reached for comment at facebook.com/tom.palen.98
It’s a beautiful thing to plant a seed then patiently wait. Soon it will sprout and before long you will enjoy a sweet, fragrant, flower. Ahhh...
I plant seeds myself, but most of my seeds are sewn outside the garden. Let me give you an example.
My father-in-law comes from a family of eleven children - a large and close family. They have a reunion every year with the siblings taking turns to plan the annual event. I think that’s pretty cool. We have been fortunate to make it to most of the annual events, including this year’s gathering which was held in Ankeny, Iowa.
Coming from a large family myself, it’s always fun for me to watch the interaction of the Carlo kids, and getting to talk with each of them.
The Carlo boys all have something in common with a lot of men - hair loss, with the exception of Gail. “How is it possible?” I asked Gail. “What do you mean?” He replied a bit confused. “How is it in a family of eleven kids, you ended up with all the good looks?” I asked. Gail blushed and said, “Oh, I don’t know about that.” “It’s true,” I assured him, “you’re far and away the best looking of all the Carlo boys...and the hair! How did you manage to keep that beautiful, full head of hair when your brothers all lost theirs?” Gail continued blushing, and I moved on.
A few minutes later I was talking to his brother Clark. He wrote a book which is something I aspire to do myself one day. Clark was telling me he enjoys reading my stories, which flattered me and caused me to blush. To divert the attention away from myself, I asked, “How is it Clark, that in a family of eleven kids, you ended up with all the good looks?” Now it was Clark’s turn to blush a little. “I mean it,” I assured him, “you’re far and away the best looking of all the Carlo boys.” I left Clark blushing and moved on.
I was talking with his brother Roger. Roger and I share a common talent - making pies. We both love making pies, and I have to say, he makes the best blackberry pie I’ve ever had; I’d put his blackberry pie up against anyone’s! Roger’s arm was in a sling following a recent shoulder surgery.
“How did you do it?” I asked him while we were standing next to the dessert table. Roger explained, “Well, I had my daughter roll out the crust for me since my arm is in this sling and...” I interrupted,” “That’s not what I meant. I was wondering how it is that in a family of eleven kids, you ended up with all the good looks?” Roger blushed, “Oh, I’m not so sure about that.” I assured him, “I mean it. You’re far and away the best looking of all the Carlo boys!” I left Roger blushing and moved on.
I was talking with his brother, Adrian. Quite the innovative one, he had made discs and cues to play shuffle board on the smooth tile floor at the venue where the reunion was held. “How did you do it?” I asked Adrian. He explained, “Well I used PVC pipe to make the handles and oversized metal washers to make the discs and I...”
I interrupted. “That’s not what I meant.” I said, “How it is in a family of eleven kids, you ended up with all the good looks?” Adrian blushed. “Why don’t you go grab a stick over there and we’ll play shuffle board.” “I mean it, Adrian,” I assured him, “you’re far and away the best looking of all the Carlo boys.” I left Adrian there blushing and I went to get a cue.
Adrian and his teammate, Steve, beat Clark and me, 50-35. A new team came on the court to challenge the reigning winners. I went over and talked to Fred.
Fred and I talked bout large families. I am in the middle of my family where Fred is the baby in his. “I guess you have bragging rights.” I said to Fred. “What do you mean?” He asked. I explained, “My baby brother always says, ‘Mom and Dad quit having babies after me because you can’t do better than perfect.’” We shared a good laugh over that. “That’s true.” Fred agreed.
“How is it, Fred, that in a family of eleven kids, you got all the good looks. Maybe that’s why you were the last kid - your parents knew they couldn’t have a better looking kid than you!” Fred blushed and made some reference to me being full of bologna. “I mean it, Fred.” I assured him, “you’re far and away the best looking of all the Carlo boys.” I left Fred blushing and I moved on
I headed to the dessert table looking for a slice of blackberry pie. I was too late, it was gone. My disappointment would soon subside as I looked about the choices on the table top. “Ooo. Hello brownies!” Enjoying one of the moist, delicious, chocolatey treats, and then another. I looked around the room to make sure no one noticed me mowing down the brownies.
I had talked with each of the Carlo boys, individually assuring them, they were the best looking of all - except my father-in-law, Phil. I’ve already told him he’s far and away the best looking of all the Carlo boys. Some times men will say things like this when pursuing “favorite son-in-law” status.
My seeds were planted. I snickered a bit imagining a day when this flower bed would bloom. Some day the boys would talk; one would declare, “I’m the best looking.” Another would challenge, “No, I’m the best looking.” Only to have third claim, “No, it’s me. I’m the best looking,” and so on. Eventually one would say, “Tom told me...” and then they would be on to my shenanigans. The flowers would come to blossom and we would all enjoy the blooms.
Although the thought caused me to giggle, the truth is not all seeds germinate. The Carlo boys are good men; and make up a handsome lot, indeed. But each is too modest to ever boast claims of being any better looking than another.
It was good getting to talk with each of them; the fun conversations we had and the laughs we shared. The reunion was well planned and carried out, everyone had a great time. I tip my hat to Adrian and his daughter, Adriana, who planned this year’s festivities, and I look forward to attending next years get together.
I should however, be careful in planting such seeds of mischief. It could backfire on me some day. After all it is said: as ye sew, so shall ye reap.
Tom Palen can be reached at Facebook.com/tom.palen.98
I was heading home; eastbound on the long stretch of I-94 through Montana. I saw a sign for a rest area two miles ahead. I thought to myself, “I’ll stop there.” After driving for a really long time that day and well into the night, I needed to pull over to rest; maybe stretch my legs for a bit.
I started contemplating the things I need to get done yet this summer on the outside of my house. I considered the date. We’re already halfway through August. Fall comes in September, less than six weeks away, and brings with it cooler weather - then winter’s cold and I won’t be able to complete my outdoor work this year.
I shook my head in disbelief. Where did summer go? I really need to get on the stick and get those projects done. “I should have started earlier,” I said out loud, talking to myself. Then answered, “Yes, you should have.” Talking to yourself is one thing - but a conversation? I must be tired.
As a cluster of lights went streaking by outside the passenger window, I said, “And I should have taken that exit for that rest area.” Not a problem, the GPS shows there’s another rest area in...seventy-eight miles? Yikes! I’m not going to make it that far!
Exit 117 was just ahead; the turnoff for Hathaway, Montana. I could turn around there and go back to the westbound rest area. I started laughing. Hathaway - like Jane Hathaway. Do you remember her? She was Mr. Drysdale’s assistant on the television sitcom, The Beverly Hillbillies; a level headed liaison between his constant scheming; his love of money - and reality.
Jane was always dressed professionally in a business suite. A skirt and a jacket, and she was never without her clutch purse held with both hands in front of her. Her hair was short with tight waves - never a hair out of place. A very practical woman in every aspect except her car.
I loved her car; a 1963 Dodge Polara convertible. “I’m going to own that car one day.” I would tell myself each time she slowly pulled into the Clampett’s driveway. - but for now, I turned my Subaru onto exit ramp 117.
At the end of the ramp, I decided to stop and pulled onto the shoulder. I rolled down my window and turned off the engine. It was almost two-o-clock in the morning. There wasn’t any traffic on the interstate and the wind was calm. Silence. Total silence and with the new moon approaching, it was very dark.
Within a few minutes, my eyes started to adjust to the darkness. I was far enough from the rest area to not be affected by the lights. There were no house, farm or street lights. Nothing. Just dark and stillness.
The sky was very dark, but not black. It was a steely blue, lighted only by the stars. As my eyes dilated, I could see more stars, then even more stars and still more. Totally content and at peace, I smiled. This is why they call Montana, The Big Sky State.
Leaning against my car, looking up in awe, I said, “Wow! There must be billions of them!” Big ones and little ones. Some very brilliant and some meek and dim. Some seemed closer, while others were more distant. Some shined as a solid light, others twinkled. Together, all the stars in the sky looked like glitter!
It’s overwhelming trying to comprehend that there are no two alike! Each star is unique. I tried to focus on just one; a small star sitting in a small dark field by itself, softly dancing. I wondered what it would be like to be that star, way out there on its own, in its own space, away from the others..
I imagined that star looked back at the Earth, seeing all the people and saying in awe, “Wow! There must be billions of them!” Big ones and little ones. Some very brilliant and some meek and dim. Some seem closer and others more distant. Some shined like a solid light while others twinkled. The star must have thought, it’s overwhelming trying to comprehend, there are no two people alike! Each one is unique.
I wondered if that star ever focused on just one person. A small person, sitting in a small dark area by themself, relaxed and gazing toward the heavens. Perhaps the star wondered what it would be like to be that person, way out there, on their own, in their own space away from the others.
I wondered if that star which I focused upon, was looking back, focused on me. A simple person, sitting at peace in a dark space on the side of the road near Hathaway, Montana.
No matter who, or where you are - you’re never alone, for someplace up there high above the Earth, a star is watching you, too.
You can comment or reach Tom at, Facebook.com/tom.palen.98
I was on my way to Mesquite, Nevada. The problem with my Garmin GPS is it will often take me on some wild routes that make no sense at all. I will admit to seeing some spectacular parts of America, that I wouldn’t have seen had it not been for her quirky calculations, but when I am on a time schedule, it’s best to look over the route on Google maps. I can combine the best of the two sources by entering specific towns into my GPS, along the way.
Such was the case this day on my way to Mesquite. I programmed several cities and towns, taking some state and county highways through South Dakota and Wyoming; backroads that would save me a lot of miles and time.
For some reason, the GPS couldn’t find Muddy Gap, so I entered Three Forks, Wyoming, very nearby. The Garmin couldn’t find that either. I entered Rawlings, Wyoming, and the screen produced the route I wanted to take. I headed down the road.
At the intersection of US 220 and Wyoming State Highway 200, I came upon a service area; the sign read, “Three Forks. 24 Hour Pumps. C-store - Lodging and More.” I chuckled as I turned in, “Well I found Three Forks.”
It was a simple place that seemed lost in time. Most of the driveway was gravel with a combination of concrete and asphalt around the fuel islands and in front of the convenience store. An overhead canopy with red trim shaded the pumps from the hot sun. The store was a white metal building with a red and dark green stripe.
To the left, on the east end of the building there was an old mobile home with a wooden staircase on the right side. Some of the skirting was missing from the trailer, and a small window air conditioner looked like it could fall out. A red band of chipped and peeling paint around the top, and a dark green band near the bottom, tied the trailer with the rest of the business complex. The top band had white hand painted letters that read, “MOTEL.”
After filling the tank, I went inside to get an ice tea. There was black lettering on the front of the building on either side of the door. To the left, “Three Forks” and to the right “Muddy Gap.” I asked the cashier, “Is this town Muddy Gap, or Three Forks?” “Both and neither.” She replied leaving me confused. “Three Forks is on that side, and Muddy Gap is on this side of the road. They’re both junctions. Neither is a town.” She explained, then complained. “We don’t exist. You ought to try getting a package delivered out here; no one can find us, everyone just stops in.”
“Is the motel still open?” I queried. “Yep. Do you need a room?” She asked. “No, I was just curious.” I replied. She offered, “Well if you ever need a room, just let us know. We usually have one available.” I thanked her, picked up my ice tea and headed out the door.
On the way out, I passed a lady coming in who was wearing a blue shirt, familiar to the Midwest, sporting a big red and white Chicago Cubs logo on the front. “Nice shirt!” I said, adding, “You’re a long way from home.” She smiled and said, “Thanks!” Outside there was a man wearing a Cubs hat. “I have to assume you’re with the lady inside wearing the Cubs shirt.” I said, “you just don’t see a lot of Cubs logos in Muddy Gap, Wyoming.” We shared a good laugh about that.
He nodded toward my truck. “I noticed your Minnesota plates. What part of Minnesota are you from?” Since no one except folks from the north shore seems to know where Silver Bay is, I gave him my standard answer, “We’re an hour up the shore past Duluth, on Lake Superior.”
“Oh yeah?” He said, “we’re on our way to Babbitt to my wife’s family reunion!” My eyes lit up, “Really! Do you ever go up Highway One, through Finland?” “We sure do.” He answered. I said, “Well then you drive right by my house! Could you stop in and let my wife know you passed me; Tell her I’ll be home in a few days.” We shared a pretty good laugh over that.
I started thinking about how many times recently I’ve run into people in far away places, who are also from the north shore.
Last summer we were camping at Fort Pickens, Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. A lady noticed our license plates. “I’m from walker Minnesota. Have you ever heard of it?” She asked. “I sure have,” I told her, “I go to Backus quite often and you’re just up the road from there.” She asked where we were from. Since she was from our state, I told her we lived in Silver Bay. “Really?” She said pointing to another camper, “My friend over there is here camping with her brother who lives in Two Harbors.” What a coincidence. Two Harbors is just thirty miles from our house.
Speaking of Two Harbors, this spring we were in Northern California hiking in the Redwood Forest. Among the huge trunks of the giant trees, I struck up conversation with a man on the same trail. He asked if we were from this area. I told him, “No,” then gave him my standard answer; “we’re an hour up the shore past Duluth, on Lake Superior.” “What a small world.” He said, then told us, “We’re on our way to a nephews wedding in Two Harbors.” A small world indeed.
Just a couple weeks ago we were on the summit of the Guanella Pass, way up high in the Rocky Mountains, just outside of Georgetown, Colorado. A lady noticed the plates on our car and said to my wife, “Minnesota? I’m from Burnsville; south of the twin cities.” Melissa replied, “Oh yeah? We’re from Silver Bay, on the North Shore.” A third lady, from a different party, over heard Melissa. “Silver Bay? Hey, we’re practically neighbors! I’m from Duluth.” The world is getting smaller.
In February we were walking along the beaches of Mobile Bay. A man noticed our license plates, this time we were riding with Melissa’s parents. “How did you folks from Iowa, end up all the way down in Gulf Shores, Alabama?” I told him, “That’s my father-in-laws car, they’re from Iowa and spend winters here. We used to live in Ottumwa, but we live on the north shore in Minnesota now.” “Really? What town?” He queried. “Silver Bay,” I answered, “Have you ever heard of it?” He smiled, “I live in Maple Grove, down in the cities, but I was raised in Knife River, and I went to school in Two Harbors. We go back to visit several times a year.” Yes, a very small world it is.
There was another group we met on the beach of the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. The man noted our license plates and told me he was from California, but his friends lived on the north shore. “Really?” I asked, “what town?” The man answered, “Well he’s from the other side.” “What do mean, the other side?” I queried. He held his open hand as if to shield his mouth from his friend. He lowered his voice and explained to me, “He’s Canadian.” We shared a good laugh about that. “Well it’s all one big happy north shore; Canadians and all!” I said, his friend said, “That’s right, eh?” We shared another laugh.
How silly of me. I wondered why haven’t been asking these people their names all along? I certainly should have been. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again - not here at Muddy Gap junction, in Wyoming. The folks on their way to Babbitt, we’re Frank Anderson, and his wife, Sherry Slade Anderson. “Does your wife spell her name, S-h-e-r-r-y?” I asked. “That’s correct.” Frank answered, “She spells it ‘the right way.’ Just ask her, she’ll tell you.” We shared a good laugh, and each went on our way.
I drove to Nevada thinking how cool it is that I meet so many people around the country who are from the north shore, and how it would make a neat story someday.
When I arrived in Mesquite, I helped a man set up his new Scamp. It was hot! 116 degrees. Hotter than any temperature I have ever experienced. It was so hot, I would sweat just standing still in the shade. When I was done I stopped by the grocery store to get a few things for the trip home.
It was all my air conditioner could do to break the extreme heat on the short drive to Smith’s Grocery. I parked and stepped out of my truck. The scorching heat rising from the black asphalt nearly took my breath away, yet all the other people were walking about like the heat was no big deal.
On my way inside, I caught up with a lady and asked her, “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this weather hot?” “Not really,” She replied casually, “Why?” I explained, “I’m from northern Minnesota, and it seems really, really hot to me.” She giggled a bit, “It’s not too bad.” She said, then asked, “Where in Minnesota?” I gave her my standard answer, “We’re an hour up the shore past Duluth, on Lake Superior.” “Oh really?” She said, “do you mean like Lutsen?”
“Ah, you know the shore?” I asked, she smiled and replied, “I grew up on the Gunflint Trail on Seagull Lake. Christian Knudsen was my grandfather.” We had a nice conversation and during that time I remembered to ask her name. “Kimberly LaBronte.” She said, “My last name was Horns when I lived up there. Most of my family were Knudsen’s...”
It never ceases to amaze me how small the world is - and getting smaller all the time. I think of all the people I’ve met around the country who are from the north shore...and the people from Iowa that I meet out and about.
It seems to not matter where you’re from or where you live now, people are like waves on Lake Superior, and the North Shore is like home - where ever that may be. They leave, and come back, leave and come back..
On my way home, I passed Muddy Gap junction in Wyoming and thought about the Anderson’s: waves making their way back to shore, and when they reach the shore - they’ll once again roll back out to sea.
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