a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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I stopped at Walmart in Fishkill, New York, to get a bottle of Windex. In the cleaning supplies aisle, a lady was carefully looking over a toilet cleaning
brush - her husband was patiently standing by.
I suggested, “If you want to know if that thing will work well, you’ll need to put it in his hand to see how it fits.” We all shared a good laugh over that. I walked down the aisle and back, looking for the glass cleaner, but never found it. I asked them, “Do you happen to know where the Windex is? I should think it would be in this aisle with cleaning supplies.”
The three of us walked the aisle together, looking, but didn’t find it. We were nearing the end when the lady pointed at the shelves, “It’s right there.”
“Where? I don’t see it.” I said.
“It’s on the other side of the shelf; in the next row.” She answered.
Confused, I shook my head, “This is why men never have the house cleaned when we’re supposed to. Someone always puts the cleaning stuff where we can’t see it.” We shared another laugh about that.
I have no idea how she saw that Windex, I still couldn’t, but I took her word and went to the next aisle. Sure enough, it was where she pointed. I picked up a bottle and headed to check out. At the end of the aisle, I ran into them again. “Did you find it?” She queried.
“I did.” I said, “It was right where you said it would be.” As we stood there, I pointed to a full pallet - a big display of Windex right at the end of the aisle where we first started talking. “It’s a good thing those weren’t snakes, they would have bit us!” I declared.
She chuckled. “Yes sir, they would’ve. They’d of bit us good.” We shared another good laugh, then went our separate ways.
Heading toward the checkout lanes, I saw a man kneeling on the floor, facing the shelves, holding a bottle of Western salad dressing. His wife was standing next to him with her hands on the grocery cart, “Is it really worth two dollars more than any other brand?”
I couldn’t help it – I had to throw in my two-cents worth. “Ma’am, any salad dressing that brings a man to his knees in the grocery store – that’s really, really good stuff. Probably well worth a couple extra bucks, maybe more.”
She gave me a cold, blank stare. Just when I thought I was about to be told to mind my own business, she cracked a smile, then burst out laughing. “Okay,” she told her husband, “Put it in the cart.”
He got up grinning, “Thanks man.” He said, holding the bottle of dressing my way, “Have you had this before?”
Not wanting to tell him western dressing is probably my least favorite, I replied, “I can’t say as I have.” He told me I should try it sometime, then thanked me again for helping to convince his wife to get the better dressing. “Just doing what I can to help people find happiness.” I said, then went about my way.
I felt pretty good for drawing a bit of laughter from the two different couples, brightening their day just a little.
Near the registers there was another display of Windex. I thought it must be a really good buy for the store to have multiple displays of the same product. I considered getting a second bottle, but then thought, nah. A bottle of Windex lasts for a really long time - as do the good feelings you get when you share a little happiness - even with people you may not know.
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Coming home from the west coast, I stopped at the Dena Mora Lookout Pass rest area just inside Montana on I-90. What a beautiful area to wake up to in the morning. I took long, deep breaths of the cool, fresh mountain air, then hooked June’s leash to her collar. We would go for a walk but first I needed to drop some trash in the can just down the way.
There was a little boy on the sidewalk, holding a bagel in his left hand. He was mighty curious, but cautious about June. He finally asked, “Mister, can I pet your dog?” June was excited about the potential of a new friend, or, maybe it was the bagel. She lunged toward the little boy, startling him and causing him to jump back a few steps. Equally curious about him, June strained against her collar, pushing toward him and again the little boy backed up. His dad was standing close by.
“You can pet her,” I told him, “but you better let your dad hold your bagel. I’m afraid she’s going to try to take it from you.” The dad took the bagel but the little boy, still skeptical, stepped away. Taking shelter behind his dad, the boy kept peeking around dad’s leg, showing interest in my dog. “Maybe you can pet her another time,” I said, “I’m going to take her for a walk right now.”
June and I usually walk down the shoulder to the end of the exit from the rest area, then back to the entrance. Near the end where we were going to turn around, we found an old road that went back into the woods. Naturally, we followed the road.
A short dirt trail took us from the asphalt down along the stream at the base of the mountain. We enjoyed the shallow water that babbled and splashed over the rocks. June stepped into the stream’s edge for a drink. There were wildflowers of all sorts and colors. Pinecones and other neat treasures were scattered about the ground below the tall pine trees. The road led to the backside of the rest area. June and I would cut through to get back to the car.
The dad and his little boy were in the picnic area, under a shelter. They were now joined by mom, a sister and two more brothers. I smiled and waved as we cut through. Still intrigued by her, the boy dropped his bagel in the grass to come follow June. One of his brothers and the little girl joined in line, trailing behind. They were all very curious about this dog, but caution kept them several feet away.
I wanted them to be comfortable enough to pet her. I knew a way to break the ice and put them at ease. I went to the car and got a tennis ball.
Excited over the ball, June bounced and hopped backwards on her hind legs all the way to where the kids were. They laughed at her silly moves. I took her leash off and told the kids, “Watch this.” I threw the ball a good distance. June ran full speed to retrieve the ball, bringing it back to me. Then I threw the ball high in the air. June positioned herself under the ball, then jumped up to catch it. I faked as if I was going to throw the ball deep again. June ran down the grassy area in anticipation, then turned toward me. I launched the ball to her and again she jumped up, making a spectacular catch in the air, just like a major league baseball player in the outfield. The kids were all impressed by her skill.
I showed them how to position their feet in a V-shape, explaining June would drop the ball between their feet for them to throw it. I warned them the ball would be slimy with dog slobber. They didn’t care. The first little boy made a V with his shoes. June dropped the ball between his feet and he threw it for her. June gladly retrieved it.
Justin, the dad, told me their names were Gavin, Ruby and Samuel – back at the picnic table, looking on, were his wife Amanda and oldest son Jack. The three kids each put their heels together making V-shapes with their feet. Each time June came back with the ball, she would decide who to give it to next. It was entertaining for all and I was amazed how June would rotate turns evenly among the kids.
On one return with the ball, June stopped, sniffed something in the grass, then started eating it. It’s was Gavin’s bagel.
June hadn’t had breakfast yet. She was hungry and getting tired, but she won’t quit when the ball is out. I told the kids she needed a break and took her back to the car. I gave her some water and let her rest while I fixed a bowl of cereal for myself, then set June’s bowl of food on the ground. Breakfast alfresco.
Gavin was coming closer to see if June was ready to play again. He was eating a fresh strawberry, holding it by the little green leaves. Each of the kids were eating fresh fruit. “Can June come play ball again?” He asked.
I answered him, “She just ate breakfast, Gavin. We better let her rest.” Munching on his strawberry, Gavin stood watching us – I suppose to see if I would change my mind.
I watched Justin and his family as they packed their coolers in the back of their car. The car was really full. It reminded me of when I was little and we would travel. We didn’t eat out in restaurants. Mom packed food for the trip. We stopped at wayside parks to eat our meals. Modern rest areas didn’t exist yet.
A row of short wooden posts with rounded tops and painted white, lined the edge of the gravel parking area. A rope or cable would be strung through them to keep people from driving on the grass. If you were lucky, the wayside park might have a swing set, a slide or an old merry-go-round with wooden seats and a bar to hold on to. The kind that creaked and clanked as they went around.
The slide always had a shiny metal surface. You had to lift your legs to keep from touching the hot metal surface. At the bottom was a worn pit where kids landed. If it had rained recently, the divot would be filled with muddy water. If you were wearing shorts, riding down on your rump, leaning on your back kept your legs from sticking to the slide and slowing you down. One had to be sure to get enough speed coming down that slide to clear the little swamp. There would be trouble for the one who landed in the puddle and inevitably someone would. Mom would snap, “Stay off that slide. We don’t have enough clean clothes for you kids to be getting muddy!” We would move on to the next attraction.
Along with my brothers and sisters, we would take turns pushing the merry-go-round in circles. Some kids sat the way they were supposed to, facing the center. The more daring kids would stand on the horizontal hand bar, holding on to the vertical pipe that connected the seats to the top center pole. I liked to sit backwards, facing outward. When the ride got moving fast enough, I would push off and go tumbling and laughing into the grass. There was always a lot of laughter and complaining, because someone took someone else’s seat.
Eventually someone would start crying over a lost seat or a bad landing in the grass. That would draw Dad’s attention. “You kids get down from that bar. That’s not how it’s meant to be ridden. If you can’t use it right, then just stay off it.”
Mom would break the tension, “Lunch is ready. Come eat.” Sometimes we would have sandwiches, sometimes she had cold fried chicken. She almost always had a big yellow Tupperware bowl filled with potato salad. Mom made the best potato salad! She always brought apples that came from our apple trees. If we had dessert, it would be cookies Mom made at home – or generic chocolate and vanilla crème filled sandwich cookies. (If dad found them on sale at K-mart.)
After a picnic and some playtime, we would clean up the area making sure no trash was left behind. We would also pick up any other litter or debris. “Leave it better than you found it.” Dad always said.
Sometimes, the wayside park would have an outhouse. If not, there was always a bush. If you had to do more than tinkle, a service station with bathrooms outside around the corner of the building would be the next stop. You could get the restroom key from the attendant. We all piled back into the old Chevrolet Greenbriar van, to head back down the road.
It was fun to watch Justin and his family and reminisce about those olden days with my own family. Those seemed like better days. Of course, I have come to appreciate the bathrooms with indoor plumbing in the modern rest areas, too.
One of the nicest rest areas in Minnesota is just a mile from our house at Tettegouche State Park. The next time our grandkids come to visit us on the North Shore, I think I’ll pack a lunch, with fried chicken and homemade potato salad but I’ll take them a little further up the road. Maybe we can find an old-fashioned wayside park with a merry-go-round.
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I filled June’s container with delicious Iams Mini-Chunks dog food and set it by my bag at the front door. Next, I paced my grocery tote. I took the half loaf of bread, but taking the only box of Cheerios from the cabinet would have been rude. Besides, I was going to stop at a store along my way to Seattle, Washington. I put the lid on my tote, loaded the car and we were on our way.
We pulled into the Walmart on Highway 34 in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. I pushed my empty cart to the cereal aisle. A fairly short lady was standing to one side with a heavily loaded grocery cart. Her four children were scattered about looking at things on the shelves. I waited politely. When she noticed me, the lady spoke in Spanish, calling her children, then in English, she said to me, “I’m sorry.”
“No need to be sorry. They weren’t in my way.” I said. Nodding toward her basket, I added, “I was waiting to get your attention to see if you wanted to race that thing.” She blushed and said she did not. She grunted a little as she started to push the heavy cart to go about her way.
I stood in front of the selection of Cheerios – totally dumbfounded. “When did they come out with these? Frosted Cheerios, because we’re not getting enough sugar in our diets?” I was having a hard time finding just plain Cheerios.
I remember when they first came out with Honey Nut Cheerios, but now they have all these new flavors: Blueberry, Peach, Maple and Chocolate Cheerios. I picked up a box of Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. “They already have these – they’re called Apple Jacks.” I said to no one, while picking up another box, “Fruity Cheerios? They already have these too. They’re called Fruit Loops.” Putting the boxes back on the shelf, I shook my head, grumbling, “There are too many kinds of cereal. Can’t I just get some plain old Cheerios?”
I finally found them - $3.98 for a medium size box. I questioned, “Why is cereal so expensive?” Then, I noticed the Toasted Oat Rings nearby, that were $1.29. I picked up a box of each. Comparing them, I started to reason aloud. “They’re in the same size box, the packaging is the same basic yellow background and the picture looks the same. They must be just as good. They’re probably even made by General Mills and just packaged in a different box.”
Contemplating what to do, I imagined I would soon hear over the loud speaker, “Security, we’ve got a crazy man talking to himself, complaining about cereal selection and pricing. He’s scaring off women and small children. Code three to aisle nine.” I put the box of cheap cereal in my cart and made a run for it.
Rounding the corner into the aisle by the tuna fish, I met the same lady with the big cart. I taunted her, “You sure you don’t want to race?” She shook her head no, called her children to come close and moved on. I grabbed some pink salmon and headed for the crackers to put the fish on. Guess who was in the aisle with chips and crackers? Yep, the same lady. “Are you SURE you don’t want to race?” I asked her again.
She gave me a real serious look and said, “I might beat you!” She cracked a smile then, started laughing, which caused me and her four kids to also laugh. She grunted again as she put the heavy cart into motion.
I grabbed a small package of Keebler Club Crackers, not a very healthy choice, but oh, so good. I pushed my cart through the grocery section to pick up a couple more items, then looked at several other things on the general merchandise side of the store. I decided I didn’t need them and headed for the checkout lanes.
As usual, the lanes were backed up. I wasn’t going to use the self-checkout because I had bananas and I always mess up when I have to “look up” an item. While I waited in line, I looked at all the junk they place close to the register – impulse buys people will make while checking out. I wasn’t going to fall for their marketing strategy. Of course, the candy is there and the Snickers bars were calling my name, but I was strong and resisted. I felt something bump my hand and instinctively pulled my hand closer to my side. Then, something tugged my hand. That got my attention!
I looked down and a little boy, maybe four or five years old at best, was standing next to me. In a very soft voice, he said something to me, but I couldn’t understand him. I assumed he wanted me to reach some candy from the top shelf. He repeated himself but I still didn’t hear what he said. I leaned down toward him and he repeated it again. “Mama said to tell you she won.” I had no idea what that was supposed to mean until I stood up, confused.
Two carts ahead of me was the lady with the very full cart. She stood behind the cart while her daughters kept unloading groceries, placing them on the conveyor belt as fast as the checker could scan them. With a huge smile, she held both hands up, with fists clinched, shaking them in the air like someone who’s name just got called to “Come on down! You’re the next contestant on the Price is Right.” She laughed and declared, “I won!” Indeed, she did.
I shared in her victorious joy, returning a smile and giving her two thumbs-up. When the cashier told her the total of her groceries was $248 and some odd change, I silently gave thanks that we weren’t racing for grocery bills.
The next morning, I fed June, then opened the box of Toasted Oat Rings. I poured some milk over them and took my first bite. They were crispy but there was no flavor at all. I picked the box up and looked again. They were Toasted Oat Rings and they looked like Cheerios, but they didn’t taste like them. They didn’t taste like anything.
I asked June if she wanted to trade her mini-chunks for a bowl of delicious Cheerios? “No thanks, Dad.” She said, “Those aren’t real Cheerios and I can tell by the look on your face, they aren’t very good. Besides, they’re probably already soggy.” She was right.
I ate another spoonful of the soggy oat rings. Completely tasteless, I pitched the paper bowl with the rest of the mushy oat rings in the trash can. I should have spent the $3.98 and got the good stuff. Real Cheerios.
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When we first married, Melissa was the photo editor at the Daily News and living in Winona, Minnesota. I was still managing my radio stations in Iowa. I would leave our house in Winona around 2:00 a.m. on Monday morning, to drive to work for the week, in Ottumwa.
Our two oldest daughters, Sydney and Delaney, were attending the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. They shared a house in Waterloo, Iowa, which was right on my way from Winona to Ottumwa. During my Monday drive, I would stop by the convenience store to get a half dozen donuts and a gallon of milk and leave them on their front porch on my way through. I never bothered to wake them because I went through town around four in the morning. It was a special time in life. I hold fond memories of those stops and the “I love you, Dad” texts that would follow.
Last Friday, on my way home from Florida, I needed to stop in Rochester, Minnesota, to take care of some business that would take several hours. Then I needed to get to Duluth before 8:00 p.m. to return a rental trailer. My route would have me driving within a few miles of our daughter Sydney’s house. I was on a really tight schedule and contemplating whether to stop or keep going. It was around 8:00 a.m., Sydney had the day off work for Sister’s Week. I figured they would still be in bed, so I decided to keep driving.
Our three daughters get together once a year for “Sister’s Week,” and Delaney was back from Pennsylvania. Annie, our youngest, was gone that morning doing things to prepare her classroom for the coming school year. It would be Sydney and Delaney together again in Waterloo. I decided I would go get donuts and stop by their house, just like when they were in college.
I rang the doorbell, but nobody answered, so I rang it again and then knocked. Delaney came to the door and let me in. “Stop ringing the doorbell, you’re going to wake the girls.” She whispered with concern. I could see into the bedroom where there were two lumps under the covers. With a milk jug in my left hand and a box of goodies in my right, I gave Delaney a hug and told her good morning!
As soon as I spoke, Addison, our oldest granddaughter, heard my voice and sprung up from under the covers. “Papa!” She said in a sleepy, but excited voice. Shaking the other lump under the covers, “Evelyn. It’s Papa. He’s here!” Addison jumped from the bed and came running to the living room, with Evelyn right on her heels. I handed Delaney the milk and knelt down on one knee to embrace the sleepy child in my left arm. Addison threw her arms around my neck and squeezed me tightly. I returned the hug. Evelyn came running along behind with her arms wide open to join in the group hug. “Papa!” she said.
When it occurred to Ev, she was hugging Addison and not me, she scooted around to my right. I gave her a big hug, pulling her in close as well, the box of donuts was still in my hand. With four little arms wrapped around my neck like an octopus, it was a very heartwarming greeting. Lots of hugs and kisses were shared and I got a little misty-eyed, feeling such pure love from these two.
We went to the kitchen, poured a few glasses of milk, then opened the donuts. Evelyn was all over the cake donut with babos (blueberries) while Addison went right for the long john with chocolate frosting and colorful sprinkles. We shared some wonderful conversation.
Evelyn had finally learned to say Aunt Delaney’s name, but was a little too bashful to say it for me. I pointed to Sydney and asked, “Who is that?”
“Mommy.” Evelyn replied. Then I pointed at her sister, asking the same question. “Addison.” I pointed to myself, “Papa.”
I pointed to Delaney asking, “Who is that?”
“Denaney.” She answered, then raised her shoulders, bashfully putting her finger inside her bottom lip. I gave her kudos and another hug.
I asked Addison what she was going to do today, “I’m going to get a pony.” She stated with authority.
“A real one?” I queried,
“Yep. A real pony. I’m going to get one today.” She confirmed.
“Do your mom and dad know about this?”
Addison smiled. “Not yet, but they will.” We shared a good laugh about that, as I wondered where they were going to keep the new pony – Addison was very determined.
We went outside to throw a few balls for June. I was on a tight schedule and needed to get going. We said our farewells, then June and I got in the car and started down the street. I gave two toots on the horn and waved my arm out the window. As we drove away, I could see them in my rearview mirror, standing in the front yard, waving back.
Annie would join them again in a few hours, but for now it was Sydney and her little sister, Delaney; Addison and her little sister, Evelyn – together for Sister’s Week.
As I turned onto Highway 63, heading north to Rochester, I thought how glad I was to have taken time to stop by.
My business in Rochester took longer than expected, so June and I hustled along and cut our breaks short. As it turned out, we made it back to Duluth, arriving at the trailer rental store at 7:50 pm. Everything was going my way.
Even if it would’ve meant making another trip back to Duluth and another day’s rental on the trailer, it would have been well worth it. I wouldn’t want to have missed out on that morning and the special greeting - one I’ll remember for the rest of my life, that came unexpectedly during Sister’s Week.