I was on my way to northern California, pulling a Scamp trailer. It was late, around midnight, and I was in the middle of nowhere Nevada when the state trooper turned on his lights to pull me over. I wasn’t speeding so I had no idea why I was being stopped.
I greeted him, “Good evening. I usually know why I’m getting pulled over, but tonight I have no idea.” The officer laughed, then informed me, “You don’t have any lights on the trailer.” “Really?” I was surprised. “I just had the wiring on the car fixed before this trip and the trailer is brand new.” He told me, “Your brake lights are working, but you don’t have any marker lights.” I sighed with disappointment. “That’s exactly what I had it in for.”
The officer shined his flashlight for me as I wiggled the wiring connection between the car and the trailer to see if they would come on. No such luck. I opened the back hatch of my car and got into the spare tire compartment, showing him the part. “This is the new controller they just installed.” I checked all the connections - they looked good. I was at a loss.
He asked me, “Where are you going? “North of Sacramento.” I replied. “I can’t let you drive down the road without marker lights.” He said, but he also had a couple suggestions. “I can call a tow service for you, or there’s a rest area a few miles up the road. If you turn your flashers on, I’ll follow you to make sure you get there safe. You can you spend the night and in the morning drive into Reno to get your lights checked out.” “I’d really appreciate it if you’d follow me to the rest area.” I said, not wanting to spend the money for a tow truck.
Although I got on the road bright and early the next morning, I was behind schedule. I didn’t stop in Reno to check the lights. I would be dropping the Scamp off during daylight hours and driving home without a trailer. All the lights on the car were working, so I headed for Cobb, California, north of Sacramento.
As I got nearer to my destination, I passed a sign that read, “Welcome to Lake County, California.” It caused me to laugh, as I live in Lake County, Minnesota. I said out loud, “Two thousand miles and thirty-one hours of driving and I end up right where I started - Lake County.”
It was a gorgeous morning for a drive. At 65 degrees, the air smelled very fresh and the clear skies were a brilliant blue. I turned off Highway 29 onto county road 137 - the final stretch to my destination. The drive was thrilling with big hills, deep valleys and a continuous ribbon of winding curves. As I drove up into the mountains, I passed farm fields of fresh produce and orchards with dark green citrus trees in perfect rows. It’s a beautiful part of California with all the agriculture and a pleasant contrast to the big cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego. The places most people think of when California comes to mind.
As I rounded a curve, there was a red Saturn stalled on the opposite side of the road. The driver was on the shoulder, outside his car, looking at a cell phone. I checked my phone and had no signal. I really didn’t have time, but I thought, if I was stranded where there was no cell phone service, I would want someone to stop and help me. I made a quick U-turn, to go back to see if I could help him. I pulled up behind him and got out of my car.
“Need a hand?” I asked. “It’s my battery.” He said, explaining, “It’s only holding seven volts.” I offered, “I don’t have cables, but if you have a pair, I could give you a jump start.” He explained he didn’t have jumper cables with him, but suggested, “My car has a manual transmission, maybe we could push it and bump start it.” “That should work.” I said.
The man was wearing a green camouflage US Air Force t-shirt. “Is that a real Air Force t-shirt?” I asked. He laughed, “No. It’s just more of a joke, but I have real Air Force shirts at home.” “You served then?” I asked. “Yes, at Castle Air Force Base from ’83 to ’87. Castle closed a few years after that.” He told me.
I learned his name was Chai, but I wasn’t clear how he was saying it. He spelled it, C-H-A-I. That’s what he said. What I heard was C-H-I-A, “Chia. Like a Chia Pet?” “It’s pronounced Kye, rhymes with guy.” He told me. I finally got it. Chai said he was born in Thailand and came to the United States when he was nineteen years old. “I joined the Air Force because I could earn my citizenship that way.” He said, “Plus I learned a trade without paying for a tech school.”
Getting back to the business of trying to bump start the car, he said, “You get in and I’ll push.” He told me he couldn’t push very far as he had a heart condition. “Dude,” I insisted, “if you have a heart condition, YOU get in and I’ll push.” “Are you sure? I feel bad having you push my car.” He said, to which I replied, “And I will feel even worse if you have a heart attack pushing it. Now get in.” We shared a laugh over that and Chai got into the driver’s seat.
“Okay, I’m ready.” He called out the window. Placing both hands on the edge of the trunk lid, I leaned into the vehicle. I pushed with all my strength but the car wouldn’t budge. Chai called out the window, “Oops. I had the parking brake set. It’s off now.” I laughed, then started pushing. Once I had the car rolling, Chai popped the clutch, but the car didn’t start. “Let’s try it again.” I called up to him and started pushing. He popped the clutch a second time, still the car didn’t start. “Let’s go again.” I hollered. After the third failed attempt, the car still wouldn’t start, and we reached a point where we were now going to be pushing it uphill.
Chai set the parking brake and got out. “I’m going to have to walk home and get another battery. Seven volts just isn’t enough to start it.” He said. “That’s an odd thing to say,” I said, “Most people wouldn’t know how many volts a battery was holding. How do you know it has seven volts?” Chai answered, “I tested it with a volt meter. In the Air Force I was an electrician and worked on automotive electrical systems.” “Oh really?” I said, smiling, thinking about my taillight trouble.
I told Chai about my problem. He said, “You should have a little box mounted in your car that would control those lights.” “Yes,” I said, “it’s in the spare tire compartment. Could you take a look at it?” “Let me grab my meter.” He said. I opened the rear hatch, and wheel well cover in my car. Chai spotted the controller right off and began testing it. “Your controller is bad.” He told me. “Its brand new; I just had it installed three days ago.” I said. He replied, “Oh, well if it’s brand new, then it’s not bad – it’s defective.” We shared a good laugh about that.
Chai said, “I can run a jumper wire to bypass the controller if you’d like, then your lights will work again.” I responded, “I would really appreciate that.” He grabbed a small piece of wire, a couple connectors and a crimping tool. In just a few minutes he had the lights working. “I really appreciate this, Chai. What do I owe you?” I asked. “Nothing. It’s my way of saying thanks for stopping to see if I needed help.”
I stopped to help him, but he ended up helping me.
I was now late for my appointment to drop off the Scamp. I thought to myself, “You’re already late, what’s it going to hurt to be a little later? This guy has a heart condition and Lord knows how far he has to walk through these hills.” I asked Chai, “You said you were going to walk home. I’m on my way to Cobb; which way do you live?” His eyes lit up, “I’m right on your way. I live on 137, about three miles before you get to Cobb.” “This day is just full of coincidences. Jump in, I’ll give you a ride.” I said.
On the way to his house we passed a KFC restaurant. I made some comment about it and he asked, “Do you like KFC?” I laughed. “It’s my weakness.” I confessed. When we got close to his house, he said, “You can let me off at the gate, I only live a few doors down.” Chai gave me his phone number. “When you’re done with your trailer deal, call me. I’d like to treat you to lunch for helping me.” He said. I laughed, “But I didn’t help you. You helped me.” We said our farewells and I drove on down the road.
I called Leigh. “Sorry I’m late,” I said, “I’ll be there with your Scamp in five minutes.” “Don’t worry about it,” she said, “I’m just excited to get it.” It took longer than expected to show her how everything worked on the trailer. I was there for almost three hours, but I don’t mind. I wanted to be sure she was comfortable using her new trailer.
Leaving her house, I planned to head straight home but I thought more about Chai. I think he really wanted to go to lunch, so I called him. “It took me longer than I thought.” I said, “Do you still have time to go eat?” “Of course,” he answered, “can you pick me up at the gate?” “I’ll be there in five minutes.” I replied.
When Chai got in the passenger seat, I asked him, “Do you need a ride back to your car?” “No,” he said, “I put a new battery in it, it started right up and I drove it home. I picked up my friend, John, and he went with me to drive one of the cars back to my house. He’s going to go eat with us, then I’ll run him home.” “Perfect.” I said, then suggested, “There’s a McDonald’s up ahead, do you want to stop there?” “No way!” Chai said, “You told me you had a weakness for KFC and I’m going to treat you to KFC.” We shared a good laugh about that, then drove to the Colonel’s place.
We had some nice conversation during dinner. Chai asked if I had ever been to the Redwood Forest. I told him I had not. “Man, you should go! It’s not very far from here at all.” He said. John added, “Yeah, you’re already this far west, you might as well go. It’s awesome.” I told them, “I would love to, but that’s a trip I’m going to save for when my wife can be with me.” With that, we said our farewells and I jumped in the car to head east.
Just the other day, I was cleaning out a box of old papers. I came across the notes I had written about that day when I met Chai, including where he wrote down his phone number for me. That was one year ago. My wife and I have since been to the Redwood Forest, but I never did write the story. I wondered if he still had the same phone number. I picked the phone up and called. There was no answer, so I left a message, “Hey, this is Tom. I’m looking for Chai; wondering if you remember me. If this is his number, give me a call back.” Unfortunately, I forgot how he pronounced his name, and I said Chia, like a Chia Pet.
Over the past year I have often thought of Chai. How ironic it was that I didn’t have time to stop and help him, but I stopped anyway, and he ended up helping me! It’s funny how things work out that way sometimes.
Almost immediately, my phone rang. “Hi Tom. It’s pronounced Kye, rhymes with guy. Of course, I remember you. You helped me with my car that day.” He said. I laughed, “But I didn’t help you. You helped me.”
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98
With Thanksgiving upon us, I have once again committed to not overindulge this year. But, I said that last year, and the year before, and the year before that...
There’s just so much food and everything is so good. Moist turkey, stuffed with made from scratch sage dressing; mashed potatoes with homemade gravy, sweet potatoes spiced just right with marshmallows on top, green bean casserole with the crispy onion topping, our daughter’s spicy corn, fresh cranberry relish, the soft, warm, homemade dinner rolls right out of the oven... Oh my, and we haven’t even gotten to the pies yet!
I’ve tried limiting myself to one helping - no seconds, but that caused me to pile the plate way too high with food the first time. I’ve tried a smaller plate, but found it can easily be refilled again and again. I even tried holding my fork in my left hand, once. That was a disastrous mess! Drinking a full glass of water before eating only added to being too full. I don’t normally eat that much, so, why do I do so every Thanksgiving?
Maybe it’s the setting. A big feast spread out over a beautifully decorated table, with a real tablecloth and a festive fall centerpiece. Family and friends come together to celebrate. The atmosphere is warm and inviting. The food is so good and I do like eating, still, I have never liked the feeling of being stuffed to the point of being miserable.
This year is going to be different. Before dishing up, I am going to ask myself, “Just how bad do I want it?” Instead of focusing on all the food, I’ll make a conscious effort to seek the true meaning of Thanksgiving - reflecting upon where it all started.
A few years ago, Melissa researched my ancestors, seeking to find where they had originally settled when coming to the “new world.” She found it! We drove to the east coast that fall and ended up in Taunton, Massachusetts. Taunton is a small town about 24 miles due west, inland from Plymouth, where the famous Plymouth Rock marks the landing site of the pilgrims arrival in 1620.
From Taunton, we drove to Plymouth, where we visited Plymouth Rock. It was an open monument type structure with tall pillars and a roof overhead. Inside it wasn’t much at first glance; just a rock petitioned off by three walls. We viewed it at street level. The rock itself sat down in a concrete well on the sandy beach. Leaning on the black steel railing above, we looked below. The tide was out so the rock sat alone. The date, 1620, engraved in the rock, was weathered from years of waves splashing against it, wearing it down.
I was trying to imagine myself being on that voyage. The ship must have been anchored in the bay and the pilgrims came to shore in rowboats, I suppose. There was no fancy dock, nor a welcoming committee - just a rock on an empty beach and woods before them. I felt a chill; an eerie feeling, knowing those people arrived with no place to go; no shelter of any kind. They had to make due with only that which nature offered, the few provisions they brought with them and their faith in God to provide a better future. It was humbling to say the least.
Our next stop was to visit the Mayflower II; an exact replica of the original ship on which the pilgrims arrived. We were going to bypass the boat on this trip as it was a grey cloudy day. It was cold and spitting rain on and off. The east wind blowing in across the cold waters of Plymouth Bay seemed to penetrate right through my coat, chilling my bones! It wasn’t the best day for touring an open boat, but we were told the ship would be leaving at the end of this season; in just a few days. She would be taken to a shipyard where she was scheduled for a major restoration and wouldn’t return for three years. The ship would be back in time for the 400th anniversary in 2020. We decided to go check out the boat, which was a short walk from Plymouth Rock.
Crossing the walkway onto the deck of the Mayflower II was like stepping into a time machine. There were plenty of staff members on board. Those who were dressed in normal clothes and wearing a name tag, could answer any questions you had. Others dressed in 1620’s clothing could answer questions, but they had to speak in the period. That was interesting. Keep in mind there was no such thing as political correctness in 1620. One just said what was on their mind.
I overheard a shipmate telling a story to another guest. He was speaking about Irishmen, and not fondly. Being Irish on my mom’s side, I was a bit taken aback by his comments. When he was done talking with the other person, I queried the shipmate, “Excuse me. Why did you say the Irish were worthless?” He clarified, “I didn’t say they were worthless. I said they were no good. Not a one of them.” He warned me, “You’d best listen to what I say if you’re going to repeat me. No man is without worth, not even a bloody Irishman.” He continued, “The Irish are very strong men. Then can lift a heavy load and do the work of two or three men. But that’s where he comes to limits. They’re as useful as an ox. Oxen are hard workers too, but you certainly wouldn’t take an ox into your cottage. Irishmen belong in the barn with the livestock.”
Curious, I asked, “Why do you say they’re no good?” I listened as he continued, “They’re no good because they’re mean and they like to fight. And do you know why they’re mean?” He answered before I had a chance, “It’s because of their bloody Irish tempers. And do you know where they get those tempers? It’s from their fiery red hair. I suppose I would be mean too, ifin’s I had red hair.” It was humored listening to him. “Do you know where they get that red hair? I’ll tell you. It’s from eating their meat undercooked! Raw meat will turn your hair red, you know.”
“I take it you don’t like the Irish.” I said to him. “What’s to like about them?” He replied, “I go to the pub to have a pint with my pals; to tell some tales and have some laughs. When the Irish come, they aren’t satisfied with a pint - they gotta be drinkin’ that Irish whiskey of theirs, and the next thing ya know, they want to fight. Well after a couple pints my pals and I are ready to give those Irishmen a poke right back in their nose!”
He wasn’t done yet. “Once we’ve put them down and tossed them out onto the cobblestone, those Irishmen go to the brothels, but the ladies will have nothing to do with such drunkards, so the men go home to their wives. Their women don’t want anything to do with them in such a drunken stupor. The Irishmen don’t have sense enough to leave an angry woman alone, and the next thing you know, she’s with child. Well when you have an angry husband and an angry wife, it only stands to reason you’re going to have angry children, and the process just starts all over again.”
When he took a breath, I told him, “I’m Irish on my mom’s side.” He looked surprised, “What does that mean, on your mom’s side? Isn’t your father Irish as well?” I answered, “No, his family came from Wales and Luxembourg.” “What is Luxembourg?” he asked, seeming confused. Remembering that he had to stay in the period of 1620, I answered, “It’s a European country that came about 200 years after your time.” The Irishman spoke his mind, “200 hundred years beyond my time? You cannot know the future. You’re speaking foolish; you must be Irish.” Then he said, “As for your parents, I can’t say anything good about these mixed marriages. Your father should be married to one of his own kind. One shouldn’t challenge the order of nature.” I smiled. Oh how things were different back then.
Melissa had gone on ahead of me. “Well, I better go catch up with my wife.” I said to him. “Is she Irish, or Welch?” He asked, “She’s a Swede.” I answered, smiling. “A Swede?” He exclaimed, “It seems your whole family is lacking good sense.” “I’ve been told that before.” I said, laughing and wished him a good day.
Walking toward my wife, I noticed how the paint on the deck was badly chipping. Some of the timbers were deteriorating. Wood surfaces were worn. Overall, the 60-year-old boat was in disrepair; rather poor condition.
Part of me wished we could see it after the repairs, but then seeing it in its current condition was probably a better example of what the Mayflower really looked like when the pilgrims traveled on it. You have to remember, the Mayflower wasn’t a passenger boat, it was a merchants vessel - a fancy name for a cargo ship.
Melissa and I roamed about the deck. The ship seemed much smaller than I would have guessed, but a staff member assured me, “This is the exact same size as the original Mayflower.” The deck wasn’t very large and was reserved for crew who manned the sails and ran the boat under orders from their captain.
The galley was in a covered area at the bow of the boat, where meals were prepared for the captain and crew. The passengers were not fed from the kitchen. They had to bring their own food for the journey. At the stern of the ship, on deck level, just below the bridge, was the captain’s and officers’ quarters. They seemed quite simplistic, with a desk, storage areas, and benches for sleeping, but I’m sure they were fancy in their day. We headed below deck, where the pilgrims traveled.
Walking down the steps, you felt confined. The ceilings seemed low and it was dark. The walls were unfinished, bare wood. The area wasn’t very large. To put it into perspective, I compared it to the dance hall at a local VFW or American Legion. The passenger area was a fraction of the size. The whole ship was only 80’ long and 24 feet wide. The back of the boat was a restricted area where the crew slept. Space in the bow was gated for livestock. The passengers were squeezed into what seemed like a cargo area, which it actually was.
Passengers were only allowed to keep basic necessities with them, including all their food for a journey that lasted over two months at sea. They didn’t have beds or chairs; they slept and sat on the floor. Their other possessions, which were limited, were stored in a cargo pod in the belly of the ship.
A staff lady told us, “If the Captain was in a good mood and the seas were calm, he might let five or six people come up on deck for some fresh air. They were only allowed to stay for about ten minutes and not everybody was given time on deck. Most of the pilgrims stayed below deck for the entire trip.” I couldn’t even fathom to guess what that was like.
In this small space, 102 people traveled without running water, cooking facilities, heat or bathrooms, for sixty-six days. They lived among livestock in a poorly lit, poorly ventilated space. I can only imagine how bad things must have been in England for these people to be willing to make this journey to an unknown land where they would build a home and make a new life. Again, the experience was very humbling. Our next stop would be Plymouth Colony.
A wall made of vertical posts, each carved to a point on top, surrounded the colony. At the entrance there were lookout towers and large gates that were closed to protect the colonist from intruders.
We toured though the colony; a village made up of small wooden built homes. Each house had a dirt floor and a thatched roof. The interior walls were coated with a mixture of mud, manure and animal hair, to insulate the structure. A fire pit in one corner was used for cooking and heating the home. The smoke vented through a wooden chimney. I asked one lady, “What happens if your fire goes out?” She looked at me as if I had asked a dumb question, “Why would you let your fire go out?” “I don’t know why, but what if it did?” She said, “Well, I suppose I might impose on a neighbor for a few coals to start another fire, but a woman who lets her fire die out?” She shook her head, “That’s just very poor housekeeping.”
A few doors down we met the governor, William Bradford, in his house. His home was about the same size as the others, but better furnished. He had a bed of his own, a wardrobe, a desk for working, a table with chairs for dining and meetings, and an upholstered sitting chair. His floors were also dirt.
I asked him about the loft above his house. “Does anyone sleep in the loft?” “Of course not. It’s unlivable. It’s very dusty up there. Why would anyone rest there? It’s only used for storing barrels and extra necessities.” During the course of our conversation he asked, “And from where do you hail?” “Minnesota.” I replied. He was puzzled, “Minnesota? What is Minnesota?” “It’s a state in the Midwest about fifteen hundred miles west of here.” I answered. He was quite concerned, “Another state west of here? Does the King know of this?” He was very serious with his questions, but keep in mind, he could speak only in the period of 1620.
“We live on the north shore of Lake Superior.” I told him. “What is Lake Superior?” He asked. I boasted, “The largest fresh water lake in the world.” “You know,” He said, “I’ve heard rumors of a large inland sea to the west. I assumed them to be tall tales, but you’re telling me this sea really exists, and you’ve seen it with your own eyes?” I assured him I had.
The governor and I shared more discussion, mostly about government policies and the colony. When we were ready to leave, I extended my hand toward him, saying, “It was a pleasure to meet you, Governor Bradford. I’ve learned a lot from our conversation.” He stared at my hand almost in disbelief. I pushed my hand a little closer to him, saying, “Really, I appreciate you taking time to talk with us. I’d like to shake your hand.” He made a sour face and said, “Well. If such is your custom.” He shook my hand lightly with the tips of his index finger, middle finger and thumb, then quickly pulled his hand away. I thought that was really odd. When we got outside Melissa reminded me, “In the seventeenth century men didn’t shake hands for sanitary reasons. They tipped hats toward one another.” “Oh? Well that explains a lot.” I said and we moved on to the next house.
At the next house we met a young lady. Her parents owned the house. She told us in addition to her chores at home, she cooked and cleaned for the Governor to produce extra income for her family. It was money they really needed at that time. She explained, “We’ve taken in a family that just arrived. They had to leave the boat so it could return to England. They will stay with us for the winter. In the spring when the weather breaks, they will build their own house.”
“How many people are in the family you’re hosting?” I asked, she answered, “The parents, one daughter and their five boys.” “And how many in your family?” I queried. “I have a sister and two brothers.” she answered. “So there will be fourteen people living in this house for the winter?” She thought for a moment as if she was struggling to add the numbers, and replied, “Yes, I suppose that is correct.”
The house we were in when talking to the girl was about ten feet wide and maybe fifteen or sixteen feet long. There was only one bed on the main level. I asked, “Isn’t it kind of crowded? Where does everyone sleep?” “It’s quite cozy,” she said, adding, “The boys sleep in the loft, the adults and the girls sleep down here.” Well, so much for the governor saying, no one sleeps in a loft.
Each house had a vertical board fence around the yard to keep their livestock. A smaller fenced area kept the animals out of the garden. Firewood, cut and split, was stacked in a round spiral fashion. A man cutting logs explained by stacking it that way, most of the log ends would be protected from the weather. There weren’t many shops in the village, and the few that were there were in the shopkeepers homes.
Every household was self sufficient. They provided everything for themselves. The girl whose family was housing another family told us, “Food will be scarce for the winter. If our supply runs low, some neighbors will help us but that’s only because we are taking in another family in need. Short of that, we would be expected to put up enough food for the winter.” It seemed a very hard life just providing for your family. Every day seemed full, working and preparing for the next winter. Most of the colonists came here for religious freedom. When they weren’t working, religion was a big part of the colonists’ everyday life. I had to wonder just how bad times were in England, that the pilgrims would come here, putting forth such labors, to just barely survive.
For all their toils, stock and supplies were limited and yet these people were credited with starting the tradition of giving thanks each fall for the blessings and bounty they had received.
I thought about my own ancestors. They were in the colonies less than thirty years after the first pilgrims had arrived. I wondered what caused them to come to the new world? Were there hardships back home they were trying to escape? I pondered just how much they must have wanted a new life, to make the journey. I wondered if they also found winters to be hard; supplies to be limited and if they took part in the early celebrations of giving thanks.
This Thanksgiving, as I look over the abundance of food set before me, I will take time to reflect on what we call an abundance, compared to what the pilgrims were giving thanks for. Before I overfill my plate, or overeat, I will take time to consider, “Just how badly do I want this?”
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/tompalen.98
I will walk or drive by a thrift shop and look the other way to avoid the temptation of going in. Don’t get me wrong, I love thrift stores, but I end up buying things I don’t need just because they were a bargain. The thrift store to me is like a Shop-Vac hose running over the floor in a construction area - it draws in and sucks up everything that is near its opening.
I sat at the red stop light, waiting for it to turn green. The Goodwill Store was ahead on the other side of the intersection. I could have turned right to avoid driving near the store, but then I thought how it gets lonely working by myself on my current project. “I could buy a cheap radio for the house.” I said, “It would break the silence.” I went straight through the intersection and pulled into the Goodwill parking lot.
Inside, I promptly found a three-dollar radio I wanted and started for the checkout lane. Suddenly I felt an irresistible force pulling at me. It was drawing me to the kitchen section to see if there wasn’t something there I couldn’t live without. “Be strong, man. Turn away.” I said, but then I caved in; besides, the kitchen stuff was on the way to the front counter - sort of. What would it hurt to just look?
I viewed the shelves full of bowls and pans and misfit lids. Then, there it was, on the third shelf up from the bottom. A 9x12” baking pan. It was white on the inside; dark brown on the outside. It wasn’t a regular glass baking dish, it was pottery, more like a bean pot. It had handles on each end and the sides were wavy, but most of all it was extra deep. “Man, this would be the perfect lasagna pan.” I said as I examined the dish inside and out, looking for chips. It was in good condition and only $5.99. I set the radio inside the dish, picked it up and started for the front counter. Then I turned around and set it back on the shelf. “You don’t need to spend that six bucks.” I said, and turned to leave.
I got just a few feet away before I went back and picked the piece up again. “I’m going to buy it.” I said. On the way to the register I convinced myself, “I don’t need another baking dish. Just put it back and go home!” I set it on the shelf and stepped briskly toward the register. Waiting in line, I thought again how unique the dish was. “You’ll probably never see another one like it.” I said. Geesh! What a dilemma. I stepped out of line and went back to get the dish, second guessing myself all the way to the kitchen area.
When I got there another lady was holding the brown dish, turning it over and over to examine it inside and out looking for chips. I stood back, acting like I was looking at something else. I thought she was going to put it in her cart, then she lifted it back toward the shelf but never quite set it down. She started looking it over again; she couldn’t decide either.
I finally said to her, “If you’d just put that in your cart it would confirm my decision that I don’t need it.” She looked at me and said, “That’s the problem. I don’t really need it either, but it’s such a cool dish and I love the high sides” “Do you know what that dish would be really good for?” I asked her. We answered in unison, “Lasagna!” We shared a good laugh about that.
“I’ll assume you make your own lasagna?” I queried. “Yes I do and it is delicious!” She said. We discussed recipes, each telling just enough to show that we made a mean lasagna, but not giving away any secrets either.
I learned her name was Sheryl. After a few minutes she took the item from her cart, handed it to me and said, “Here, you take it.” “Are you sure?” I asked. “Yes, I’m sure. I don’t need another pan.” She assured.
Next, we talked about pies and pie crust, again sharing recipes without telling too much. It turns out we both make pies and often give them away. She seemed to be such a generous person, I handed her the brown dish. “I want you to have this.” I said to her and she graciously took the dish and placed it in her cart.
Sheryl told me she was the night manager at the Perkins restaurant in Winona. We talked about how we like cooking for other people and taking meals to people when they needed a hand. Sheryl reached in her cart and handed me the brown dish, “Here you take it.” She said. “No it’s yours.” I replied. “I insist, you take it.” She said again. I thanked her, and took the dish.
We said our farewells, “It was nice meeting you and chatting with you.” I said to her. “You too,” She replied as we went our separate ways.
We ran into each other again in the checkout line at the at the register. “Are you positive?” I asked Sheryl one more time. She chuckled, “Take your pan and enjoy it!” We shared another good laugh.
I got into my car with my brown pottery baking dish sitting it in the front seat next to me. Glancing at it, I said to myself. “You really should have let her have the dish.” But she wanted me to have it, too. I decided, as much as I liked the dish, I could just as easily live without it.
What is it about thrift stores? Are we really that obsessed with finding an item we just can’t live without? Is it the bargain we seek? Or finding the perfectly unique item and snatching it up before someone else gets it? I think it might be the comradery; meeting new people, sharing good conversation and fun stories. Maybe that’s what draws me to the thrift store.
In truth, it is that interaction with other people; making new friends. That’s the treasure I can’t live without, which I sometimes find in a thrift store. Finding an attractive dark brown 9X12”, extra deep, pottery baking dish that’s perfect for lasagna for under six bucks? That’s just a bonus.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/Tom.palen.98
I’ve pulled my old Subaru Outback from retirement (the one with 349,000 miles) and decided I’m going to drive it until she dies.
This car and I go way back; we’ve been in all lower forty-eight states together and a lot of Canada, too. We’ve driven over every mountain range in America and all the plains. We’ve been to the shores of all five Great Lakes and the Great Salt Lake; the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. We have a lot of history together and we know each other well. That doesn’t mean we always get along without conflict.
This morning, headed south on Highway 1 toward Duluth, a dash light came on that said, “Airbag.” I snapped at the dashboard, “Yeah, sure! I know I talk a lot, but don’t call me an Airbag, you bucket of bolts!”
We shared a good laugh about that and made our way to the city where my first stop was the dentist’s office. When I came out, Subie asked me, “How did it go?” I’m going to need some work.” I replied in a deflated tone of voice. Subie chuckled and asked, “Is it because you’re getting older?” Sarcastically, I laughed, “Haha. Is that rust spot on your door because you’re getting older?” We gave each other a look of disdain and moved on.
Our next stop was Miller Hill Subaru in Duluth. The service guys, Rich, Casey and Garret, were surprised to see her again. “I thought you retired that car?” One said, another said, “It’s a blast from the past.” Another suggested seeing my old car was like watching an episode of The Walking Dead. Subie and I laughed and rolled our eyes.
Garrett waited on me, “What can I do for you today?” He asked. “I need a new filament for the right high beam.” I said. Garret wrote a service ticket and in a minute or two, a tech came to take Subie into the shop. Watching her be driven away was like a parent seeing their child escorted down the hall to an exam room at the optometrist’s office. I went to the waiting room.
Soon, Garret came to tell me my car was ready. I paid my bill, he gave me the keys, and told me the car was parked out front. That made me happy. She’s still good enough to be placed up front with the newer, lower mileage cars.
I went out, got in the car and pulled the door closed. “Wow! Whoever brought my car out must have been a tall, long-legged dude.” I slid my seat forward so I could reach the pedals, then fastened my safety belt. Facing the large panes of glass in the showroom windows, I could see our reflection as if we were in front of a big mirror. I smiled and waved at myself, my reflection waved back, then I started the car. When I released the parking brake both day lights came on. I turned on the lights, flashed the high beams and sure enough, all four headlights were working perfectly.
As we pulled away, Subie said, “Thanks for getting my glasses fixed. I’ll be able to see much better at night.” “No problem, buddy.” I replied, “No problem at all.”
Since my first appointment of the day was with the dentist, I had skipped my morning coffee. I figured avoiding coffee breath was the polite thing to do. My next stop was to get a cup of joe and use the WiFi.
I saw on Facebook where my friend’s daughter, Kelsie, just graduated from the academy and is now one of Iowa’s newest State Troopers. I recalled the first time I met Kelsie - she was just a tiny baby. Her dad brought her to the radio station in a car seat carrier. “Hey,” Dave said, “I want you to meet someone really special.”
The whole staff gathered around, oohing and awing at this precious little girl. Some started talking to her in goofy baby voices. I looked at Dave, who was one big smile from ear to ear, and said, “She’s a beautiful baby, Dave. Has she got a job yet?”
Since then, Kelsie has grown up, been to school, worked internships and had a few different jobs. But today was different because now she has a career. I was as proud of her as I would be if she was one of my own kids. I sent her a message reading, “Awesome, Kelsie! I‘m very proud of you! Just remember when you pull me over, I’ve known you since you were born. Will that get me out of a ticket?” I chuckled over that, knowing I’ll be going to Iowa again in the near future. I closed my iPad and returned to my car.
Subie complained, “Geesh, already! What took you so long?” “I was schmoozing a little bit - talking my way out of a future speeding ticket.” I explained. Subie retorted, “Well, you wouldn’t get speeding tickets if you would set the cruise control.” “Ha!” I exclaimed, using logical rational, “You’re the one with wheels! YOU were speeding, not me.” Subie took offense, “Well you’re the one who told me to do it.” “And do you do everything I tell you to do?” I asked sarcastically. “Yes, pretty much, I do.” Subie answered. “Yeah, right...” I mumbled, and turned left onto highway 53, heading south toward Winona.
“What time are we going to get there?” Subie asked. “It depends. Are you going to speed today?” I answered with a question as I shifted into fifth gear and set the cruise control at sixty-one miles per hour. “You better watch out for Trooper Kelsie.” Subie warned in reference to my speed. “She’s in Iowa. We’re in Minnesota. She won’t be getting us...at least not today.” I said and kicked it up to sixty-three as we purred down the highway.
I really like this car - we go way back. We have a lot of history together and I hope we’ll have plenty of future together, too. With 349,000 miles, every day is a gift.
Tom can be reached for comment at Facebook.com/tom.palen.98
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