a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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Last Thursday, a person commented on one of my stories: "These are all stories. Nice stories, but totally made up. Urban legends in a way." Totally made up? Ouch! I've literally spent my life living these stories – all true stories that really happened.
I'll often quote things said by my dog June and cat Edgar Allan. Doubters will say dogs and cats don't talk; I'll openly confess that I take the liberty of translating what they say into English for people to understand. Then I quote John Denver's song, Boy from the Country: "He tried to tell us that the animals could speak. Who knows, perhaps they do, I know they do. How do you know they don't, just because they've never spoken to you?"
My stories are true, and I'm sorry this person felt they're made up. But, all the same, I shouldn't worry about it. I know the truth; and, they're entitled to their thoughts and to express them. But admittedly, I was letting it bother me, and I need to focus on what I was doing.
I talked with a man about buying his camper that was for sale, and I needed to get ready for my trip, leaving early Friday morning to go look at it. Although I'd rather avoid Chicago traffic, finding a Scamp with the floor plan I wanted made it worth driving through the Windy City.
The journey would give me ten hours of windshield time, also known as thinking time – of which I spent way too much stewing over that person's comment. Finally, I arrived at the man's house Friday evening. Everything was just as he had described it. (I love honest people!) We finished our business deal, hitched the trailer to my van, and I started for home.
My home was another ten hours of driving away. Obviously, I wouldn't make it all the way, but I wanted to get north of Chicago to avoid the morning traffic. I was still wide awake, feeling so good about finding this camper. I drove through the big city, all the way past Madison, and finally stopped near the Wisconsin Dells, at a rest area where I got a good night's sleep. The following morning, I decided to treat myself to a nice breakfast.
I pulled into a Denny's Restaurant, which was attached to a large truck stop. There was a single black ankle sock in the driveway between the gas pump islands and the store. It was laid out perfectly as if someone was going to press it with a hot iron. It must have been run over by dozens of cars as it had tire tracks and was mashed as flat as could be. It just looked odd laying there; I stopped briefly to study it, then went inside.
I asked the waitress for a seat at the counter, then ordered a big breakfast with eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, toast, hash browns, and pancakes. Remember, I was treating myself. After placing my order, I got another treat when the man next to me struck up a conversation. Meet Dave.
Contently satisfied, Dave wiped his mouth with his napkin, then laid it on his plate. As the waitress gathered his dishes, he said, "You tell the cook that was the best sirloin I've had in years, and I've had a lot of steaks. It was perfect." Then he addresses me, "I don't know what you're having, but you can't go wrong with the steak." I told him I'd already ordered cakes and eggs. He shook his head as if I should reconsider, "You're missing out."
Dave was older than me. As he drank his coffee, he told me he drove a school bus. "It gives me something to do. I retired after forty years as a salesman with the National Cash Register company." Dave had lived in Ohio, Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, Arkansas, and more during his career. Since both of us traveled extensively around the country, we had many tales to share. But, no matter whose turn it was to tell a story, they all seemed to start the same; "Have you ever been to…"
"You ever been to Detroit," Dave asked?
"I went to a Lion's game a long time ago, but I usually just drive through. I love Michigan, especially the UP, but Detroit isn't my favorite place."
Dave jumped in, "Well, you're not missing much. That city has always had a problem with crime. The interstates and major roads are in a hole, low spots. When it rains heavily, the roads flood. At least they did when I was there in '75. If you hit the water going too fast, your engine could stall out. Anyway, you didn't want to stop on those roads for anything. Raining or not, there were always thieves and thugs around.
"Well, I was late for a meeting at the office one morning, and I'm never late; we had too many meetings, but that's not the point here.
"When I finally got there, the meeting was almost over. I'd left my jacket in the car. I was hot and sweaty, and my hair was a mess. My white shirt was partially untucked; I had dirt and grease all over it and my suit pants; we all wore suits back then.
"Everyone asked, 'Where've you been?' and 'What happened to you?' They all assumed I had trouble because it was raining and figured the roads were flooded.
"So, I told them I had a flat on the highway; it was the front tire on the driver's side. Anyway, I got my jack and tire iron and loosened all the lug nuts before I jacked the car up, then I went back to the trunk to get my spare tire. When I was rolling the tire around to the front of the car, my hood was up. I said to myself, 'What the heck? I didn't put the hood up.' So I went to close the hood, and there was a punk up there bent over my engine.' What do you think you're doing,' I asked him.
"He looked surprised by my question. He stood up and said, 'Since you're taking the wheels, I thought I'd take the battery.'" Dave and I shared a real hardy laugh about that; I could tell he'd laughed a million times telling that story – it was a good one!
I asked Dave if he'd watched the movie Smokey and the Bandit, "Many times. It's a great movie."
"Your story reminds me of the bride who stopped her car on the side of the road, then hopped into the Trans Am with the Bandit. As soon as they sped away, the Dodge van pulled up, and the guys jumped out to start stripping the car."
"Yeah! It was just like that!" Dave recalled as we shared another good laugh.
Dave looked at his watch, drank the last swallow of coffee, set the cup on the counter, and picked up his ticket. He spun around on his stool and stood up, "Well, I've got to get going. It was fun chatting with you."
We said our farewells, and he walked toward the door. I looked over my shoulder to see him at the front counter. It looked like he was telling the cashier a story. I laughed, wondering if maybe he was telling her that he'd sold Denny's the cash register she was using?
Another man came in and sat at the counter on the second stool to my right. I was just finishing my last bite of pancakes when he asked me, "Did you have the steak? I wonder how it is today."
"Nope, cakes and eggs. But I heard the sirloin steak was really good." I picked up my ticket, "Have a good day." I said to the man, then headed for the register.
When I walked outside, a quite round, elderly gentleman with a cane was bent over at the waist trying to pick something up from the ground, but he couldn't reach it. The walk was a ramp sloping downhill toward the driveway, and he was leaning way forward. Then, finally, he stood up, kicked at it, then bent over to try again. "Dang it. Just forget it, I can't pick it up," he said disappointed, talking to himself while slowly standing up again.
I leaned down, picked up the shiny dime in front of his left foot, and handed it to him. "Sure you can," I said, "we all need a little help sometimes." We shared a laugh about that.
He was offering me the coin, "You picked it up; you may as well keep it." Then added, "I just can't stand to walk by a coin laying on the ground."
"Me neither, but you saw it first, so rightfully, it's your dime."
He slipped the dime into his pocket, smiling, "Well, thanks, I'll keep it."
Feeling like I had just made his day, I walked to my van with a spirited step.
Because I was pulling a trailer, the van was parked on the far side of the lot. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to buy a bottle of water for the trip home, so I walked back to the convenience store.
A guy was standing in the middle of the driveway looking at the black sock. I stopped and looked at the abandoned garment with him, then broke the silence. "I hope the dude wasn't wearing it when this happened." We shared a laugh about that.
With a somber tone, as if to offer a memorial service, he asked, "Do you suppose we should say a few words, then put it in the trash can?"
"What? And spoil the fun for everyone else coming by wondering what happened? No way, man." We shared another laugh. I got my bottle of water, then hit the road.
A couple of hours up the highway, I heard a clanking metallic noise. It sounded like my trailer's safety chains were dragging on the pavement. I turned down the radio and looked in the side mirror. That's when I noticed the car passing me in the left lane, pulling a rental trailer. His chains were dragging, and one of them had actually worn in two.
I accelerated to catch up to them. I tapped the horn to get the passenger's attention. When she looked at me, with exaggerated mouth movement, I said, "Your safety chains are loose," while pointing to the back of their car. I wasn't sure she understood what I was saying, so I waved my hand, motioning them to follow me. There was an off-ramp right there, so I pulled off, and they followed – the car behind them did too.
We stopped on the shoulder and examined the broken chains. The man explained the people at the rental shop connected the chains. "They shouldn't have let you leave with the chains that loose." I told them I'd rented a lot of trailers, and knew how to fix the problem and get them back safely on the road, then asked, "Do you have a pair of pliers?"
He told his son, the younger man in the second car, to bring me the tool. But, unfortunately, his pliers were too small. So I went to my van a grabbed a couple of tools. We shortened the chains to a proper length and reattached them to the car.
The lady thanked me, "I'm so glad you took time to wave us over. That would have ruined our vacation if that trailer came loose. I hate to think what could have happened." Then, with the chains securely attached, we were all on our way. I drove away first.
On the highway, the car with the trailer was passing me again in the left lane. The lady looked at me, patted her chest, then, with an exaggerated movement of her mouth, said, "Thank you. Thank you." I smiled and waved as they went by. Crisis averted.
As I drove home, I reflected on the events of the day and all the friendly people I had come across. I had to put this into a story. Then I started thinking about the person who said my stories were all "totally made up." I began to feel bitter about the comment.
What about Dave and his adventure with the flat tire and the battery. I'm sure some would say he made it up – but I believed his story; every word because it came from his heart.
My emotions became thankful instead of feeling offended; because I have truly been blessed to live these stories my whole life.
I swear, it's true – all these things, and more, really happened in one day, and I couldn't wait to get home to tell June all about it. I already knew what she would say, "Gee, Dad, I sure wish I would have been with you."
Oh, and to the skeptics who don't believe my dog June talks: how do you know she doesn't, just because she's never spoken to you?
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Being the second youngest of eleven children, you could say my father-in-law comes from a rather large family. He and his siblings take turns organizing and hosting the Carlo Family Reunion. With his brothers and sisters, their children, spouses, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, it's a lot of people. To keep one person or family from bearing the duty of all the cooking, everyone brings a dish, side, dessert, or something for the dinner. It turns out to be an annual celebration where everyone eats very well.
I was making rolls for the Carlo Family reunion and having so much fun, I got carried away and made way too many! Eventually, I ran out of pans to bake them. I could have frozen the rest, but I prefer rolls to be made fresh for every meal. After filling my last two round cake pans, I still had a lot more dough. I needed to give some of these away.
I went to a couple of friends' houses to borrow a pan and a clean dish towel from each, then returned a short time later with a pan of rolls and baking instructions. I still had more dough at home.
I went to my neighbor's house. Francisco speaks very little English, and I speak even less Spanish. Still, we communicate well enough for our occasional meetings/bull sessions in the back alley. I knocked on his door to explain that I wanted to give them some rolls. He didn't understand.
His wife came to the door to see if she could help, but I think she speaks less English than Francisco. I asked if they had a nine by thirteen-inch cake pan. They didn't understand. He leaned on the banister and called up the open stairwell for his daughter.
His daughter, probably ten or eleven years old, came down the stairs with a youthful spring in her step. "Si Papa." He explained what he wanted, and she attempted to translate for us, but she didn't know what I meant either. "A nine by thirteen-inch baking pan? Do you mean a cookie sheet," she asked?
"Kind of, but it's deeper," I answered, holding my fingers to indicate two-inch sides. Her mom came from the kitchen with various cookie sheets, cake pans, muffin tins, and bakeware.
I nodded my head and took the rectangular pan she was holding. I told them I would bring it right back. "You want to borrow," Francisco asked?
"No," I replied, "I'm going to bring it right back with rolls in it."
He still didn't know what I meant but graciously offered to let me keep the pan, "Okay. You have it."
Then I asked if they had a clean dish towel that I could use to cover the rolls. Again, I didn't know the Spanish word for towel, and Francisco didn't know what I was asking for. His daughter had already returned upstairs, so I smiled, "I'll be right back."
I filled the pan with fifteen rolls and covered them with one of our clean dish towels. When I returned to Francisco's door with the pan covered with a green checked towel, he smiled, "Oh, Toalla." I assumed that to be Spanish for a towel. I lifted the corner of the checked cloth to show him the rolls inside. His eyes lit up, "Aah!" With this new visual, he understood what I had been trying to tell them. His wife waved for me to bring the pan to the kitchen.
I pointed to their wall clock to help communicate times. Using hand gestures, I said, "The rolls needed to raise for about 30 minutes under the towel," while running my finger from the twelve to the six. "Then bake them at 400 degrees (I pointed to the oven temperature setting, held up four fingers, then made two zero signs) for twelve to fifteen minutes" (pointing again to the clock). His wife nodded as I spoke. Finally, we all seemed to understand.
I went back to my kitchen, formed the remaining dough into rolls filling a pie pan. I covered them with another towel. They just needed to rise, then I could bake them and be off to the family reunion.
The next afternoon I went to Francisco's house to retrieve my towel. He was working in his shed. When he saw me coming, he walked out to cheerfully greet me in the driveway. I asked him how the rolls turned out. He nodded and said, "Very, very good." He smiled and continued, "They no more. They all gone." Waving his hands like an umpire making a safe call at home plate, he repeated, "All gone, right away. My wife bake, and they all gone. We eat them all." That made me smile.
A sparkle came over his soft brown eyes. He patted his chest over his heart and said, "My mom in Mexico make very the same. Just like my Mama." A tear welled up in his eyes. Although we spoke different languages, I could see in his eyes and hear in his voice – very fond memories had been rekindled.
Francisco took my hand with his right hand and affectionately covering it with his left. Then, while shaking my hand, still with that look in his eye, he said, "Gracias. Mucho gracias mi amigo." I understood that very clearly. Then he gave me a hug.
Feeling the depth of sentiment within his embrace, I fought back a tear of my own. Who knew one extra pan of rolls could bring another man such joy? When he let me go, I said, "You're welcome. I will make more for you sometime." Francisco smiled. They say the smile is a universal language. His hug and smile said it all.
When we allow communications to come earnestly from the heart, in both talking and listening, in giving and receiving – speaking different languages cannot stand as a barrier.
On that day, everyone was understood; love was felt. We said our farewells, and I left, forgetting all about the green checkered dish towel I went to retrieve. My heart was so full I thought it could burst. Grinning all the way home, I walked up the alley feeling lighter than air.
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While looking at photos from a trip to New Orleans (N’awlins, as the locals say), I began craving some good Cajun gumbo. I had it at a restaurant in the French Quarter, and it was delicious. So, I pulled a recipe from the internet and made it. Unfortunately, eating it left me with an even stronger craving for some good Cajun gumbo (the keyword being good). Needless to say, it didn't go well.