a broadcaster, pilot, writer, and our Guest Columnist!
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The other day I picked up fresh tomatoes at the grocery store for our salad. The tomatoes were the best you’re going to find this time of year on the north shore – but they were no match for the tomatoes I used to grow in my garden.
I held the overly firm orb in my hand. Having just past the winter solstice, I sang a line from an old Guy Clark song called, Homegrown Tomatoes: “Plant 'em in the spring, eat 'em in the summer, all winter without 'em's a culinary bummer.” So true. Placing them in my basket, I thought they may not taste as good as homegrown, but the bright red tomato wedges against the dark green lettuce will look nice for Christmas dinner.
I often ponder another line from the same song: “Only two things that money can't buy, that's true love and homegrown tomatoes.” Again, so true. If you go to a farmer’s market in the summer and purchase locally grown tomatoes, they might be farm fresh tomatoes but they are not technically homegrown tomatoes because you didn’t grow them. Perhaps I am splitting hairs here, but that’s how I feel.
Just before dinner, I called out, “Who all wants tomatoes on their salad?” One by one came the replies; No thank you. None for me. I don’t like tomatoes, but thanks anyway. Not one person wanted them. I wasn’t going to cut a whole tomato just for my salad – I’ll save it for tacos later this week.
After dinner we gathered in the living room to open Christmas presents. I handed my wife the last package; it was a gift for the two of us that would also solve a household issue; annoying shuffling of the feet. (specifically, my feet)
Our floors are all hardwood, so we don’t wear shoes in the house. The kitchen and bathroom floors are ceramic tile which can be cold in the winter. We wear house slippers to keep our keep warm. I always tell guests coming to stay with us, “This is a slippers house – bring ‘em if you want ‘em.”
I’ve not found the right slippers for me. The problem is they tend to have hard rubber soles that slap against the floor when I walk. As the tops of new slippers stretch a little and become loose, I find myself dragging my soles across the floor to keep them from falling off my feet. This creates a shuffling noise that my wife finds more annoying than fingernails being dragged over a chalkboard. Ew!
When I was little, Mom would hand me a few tin cans; a coffee can and a couple of old cookie tins with metal lids. Each was filled with miscellaneous buttons. Mom never threw away a worn-out jacket or article of clothing without first removing the buttons and good, re-usable zippers. “Here, find me a few pairs of matching buttons.” She would say as she sat on the couch with her legs pulled up under her and her feet tucked in between the cushions.
Below her on the floor was a wicker basket with balls of yarn in various colors. Mom would carry on a conversation as her hands moved methodically. Strands coming from the basket were wrapped through and around her fingers to feed the tips of two long knitting needles. Sometimes she would be pulling different colors of yarn from multiple balls at the same time.
I would pour the buttons on the floor to look for matching pairs. “I need buttons with large holes this time.” She would say, while knitting away and I started poking through the little plastic discs.
Mom would knit sweaters, scarves, stocking hats and mittens – she could knit anything. Some things were one solid color and others were multiple colors with neat patterns and designs. When it was the right size, she’d remove the piece from her knitting needles. She’d thread the eye of a big needle with the same color yarn and start stitching the pieces together. “Hand me those two dark blue buttons.” She would say, then fasten them at the front of the foot opening. “Here, try on these slippers.” She handed them to me, “Can you find another big red button like that for me?” She said, while pointing to a button in the pile with her long knitting needle. I put the slippers on my feet and started looking through the pile. Another big red button should be easy to find.
My feet always felt nice and warm in a pair of mom’s homemade slippers and I don’t ever recall them making any shuffling noises when I walked. If a pair had holes in the toe, Mom would stitch them up. When a pair had holes worn in the heels, we cut the buttons off and put them back in the can. Then we threw the slippers away and Mom would make a new pair.
I did some looking online and smiled when I found hand-knit slippers for sale. I bought dark blue slippers for myself and a pair for Melissa in sage green yarn.
After she opened the package, I immediately put on my new slippers and pranced around the room. “Look! No slapping on the floor and no shuffling noises. They’re stealth, silent slippers.” I ran across the room then slid across the smooth oak floors like a kid sliding on the ice. Wheee!
I walked around more in the slippers. They were nice, but not quite as comfortable as Mom’s. Maybe they were made with a different yarn, I don’t know – they just weren’t the same.
I walked in my new slippers to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator to get a glass of eggnog. There sat that whole tomato. I smiled. There is a difference between someone else’s homegrown tomatoes and tomatoes you grow yourself. There is also a difference between hand knit slippers and homemade slippers that mom knitted for you.
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I was looking about as shaggy as could be and still be recognized. Man, I really needed a haircut. Having several other errands to run, I figured it would be a good day to make a trip to Duluth. Maybe along the way, I would be able to get in someplace for a trim.
Everything seemed to be going my way; I was getting a lot accomplished. I felt like there were a couple more things I needed from Duluth, but they weren't on my list, and today I was determined to stick to my plan. The only thing I had left to do was get groceries, which would be my last stop on the way home - and to take care of the mophead.
I found a salon that could get me in in thirty minutes. I didn't want to wait but considered Christmas coming this week. There would be photos taken for sure, and I wanted to look good. I wanted people to look at the pictures and say, "Oh, that's Tom," not to question, "Did the Palen's get an Old English Sheep Dog?" I decided to take their offer and waited in my truck. After a quick haircut, I thanked the lady. In the spirit of the holiday season, I left her a nice tip, and I was on my way – behind schedule, of course, but I always am. Groceries next and then home.
I walked into the store with my list and a pen to cross off items as I placed them in the cart. A little voice in my head said, "Remember, Tom, stick to the list today." The last time we went to the grocery store, we ended up buying five family-size boxes of cereal. That's what happens when your stray from your list.
Right inside the front door, they had raspberries and blueberries, two pints for five dollars. I put them in my cart. A little voice in my head said, "Those aren't on the list, Tom." I put them back and reminded myself; the store always has two of the four berries needed for a mixed-berry pie on sale. The other two berries will be regular price – expensive.
I selected five Granny Smith apples, put them in a bag, and crossed them off the list. Turning around, I ran into another fruit display. Wow! Blackberries and strawberries were also on sale! It was too much to resist. I put a pint of each in my cart. The little voice reminded me these items were not on the list. "Hush yourself, you fun hater," I said to the little voice and moved along.
I put two loaves in my cart and crossed bread off the list. The next item was a space heater. "A space heater?" I scanned the rest of the list. "Ribbons and bows. Milk. An Ice Scrapper. Eggs. A boot tray. Those little bottles of peppermint schnapps…Uh-huh. Here's the rest of the Duluth list." I sighed. "Why were these written on the grocery list." I looked at it again, to see who did this. "My handwriting. Huh. Well, we'll just have to do without them."
I stopped a man who works at the store and explained I had ordered a couple of special cuts of meat. I gave him my name, and he went to retrieve them. He came out the swinging aluminum door between the meat counters. "I couldn't find anything back there with your name, Mr. Palen, and the meat department guys have all gone home." That's what I get for taking time to get a haircut that was not on my list of things to do.
"Not a problem," I told the young man, "I can come back tomorrow." On my way home from the store, well after dark, I saw a wolf along Highway 61. "Man. He is pretty!" I said as I slowed down. There was no other traffic, so I made a U-turn to go back and see if I could get a second look. Sure enough, he was still there. I stayed back away on the shoulder and watched him in my headlights – and he watched me. As soon as he determined I was no threat, he turned and continued trotting southbound down the ditch. I watched until he disappeared in the brown grass around him.
"Brown grass." I said aloud, shaking my head, "This is going to be our first Christmas without snow since we moved to the north shore." I made another U-turn and headed for home, singing, "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas…"
The next morning, I looked outside and smiled. I didn't recall snow being in the forecast, but we had a few inches, and it was still coming down at a pretty good rate. I had a lot to do, and clearing out the driveway was not on the list, but I would have to make time.
I went to get ready for the day. In the bathroom, I looked in the mirror. "I must be seeing things," I said, putting on my glasses and turning on the lights over the vanity. "I'm not seeing things." My hair was cut uneven on each side. There were patches where it was really short while others were longer. Differing lengths created a diagonal line ran from above my temple, over the top, and behind my right ear. "If I put a carpenter's pencil there, no one will notice the line."
I used my iPad and the mirror to see the back of my head. It looked like the stylist put a bowl on my head, cut it, then used a ruler to draw a straight line and cut it again – a full inch above my natural hairline and at least an inch behind each ear! "Well, at least I don't look like an Old English Sheep Dog, anymore. Now I looked like a stray dog - with mange!"
I thought to myself, "This is the worst haircut I've ever had." Then I recalled getting a haircut a few years ago, out of town. It's now known as The Alabama Butcher Shop Incident. In that case, I actually told the stylist to put down her scissors and just stop cutting – but that's a different story. Not sure what to do about my hair, I decided when I go back to Duluth today, I would look for a festive Christmas hat and wear it in all the photos.
I watched the snowplow go past our house. By the time I took the trash out, we had about five inches of new snow. The plow left a good berm at the road. I really didn't have time to get the snowblower out, but I hate to drive through it and pack down the snow at the end of the driveway.
Back in the house, while I finished getting ready, I heard a motor running outside. I looked out the bay window to see my neighbor with his tractor and big snowblower, cleaning out my driveway. That certainly made me smile. I started humming, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas…
Today is December 21st – the winter solstice. Tonight, Jupiter and Saturn will line up. I read somewhere this will be the closest they've come in hundreds of years. Appearing as one, they will be very bright, together creating the Christmas Star. A white Christmas, here on the north shore, is certain now, so I started humming, "It came upon a midnight clear…Peace on the Earth, goodwill toward men…"
Welcome to winter, and Merry Christmas to all.
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For several years, I was the emcee for an annual radio auction. Five radio stations participated. Starting in January, we went on the air weeknights at five p.m. We sold furniture, cars, implements, appliances, lawn equipment, dinners, agricultural item, vacation packages – you name it, and we probably sold it at one time or another. The radio auction is where I met my friends Dick and Jan Allen.
I would announce and describe the item up for sale, then Dick, the auctioneer, took over and started his rhythmic chant. Listeners would call in and place their bids through Jan, and a cast of operators who would call out their offers. If an item wasn't drawing enough interest, the auctioneer would take a break; I would talk more about it, allowing time for more bidders to call in – just like they do at an in-person auction.
We were doing more than just selling merchandise; it was an evening of entertainment for the listeners. We told jokes and stories and just had a grand ole time on the air. After each night's program, the auction crew would meet at a local restaurant for dinner.
We seemed to choose a lot of establishments that offered a smorgasbord. "I've never met a buffet I didn't like." Dick used to tell us. I reminded him of a couple that weren't so good. Dick defended them, "No matter how bad the food is, I always say, 'as long as they have gravy, everything is going to be okay.'"
I've always remembered his line and used it many times metaphorically - especially during times of frustration. "As long as there's gravy…"
A couple of weeks ago, I was preparing Thanksgiving dinner. I had my side dishes ready to go in the oven as soon as the turkey came out. I took a final inventory, "Sweet potatoes, stuffing, spicey corn, green bean casserole - where's the…?" Dang! I forgot to make it, and you cannot serve Thanksgiving dinner without green bean casserole – I'm pretty sure that's illegal in all fifty states.
I quickly grabbed six cans of beans and two of cream of mushroom soup. I bought a large can of French's fried onions – everyone loves lots of crunchies on top. I drained the beans, picked up a brand new 9X13" yellow baking dish. We bought it for our daughter Delaney's birthday. It's her favorite color, and the green beans would look quite appealing against the yellow. I emptied the first can of beans and grabbed another but needed more countertop space to work.
My hands were wet, but I was in a hurry. With a can in my left hand, I lifted the glass dish with my right. As I turned to set it on the other counter, I was losing my grip. I tried to set it down but it slipped away and smacked the edge of the surface. We have quartz countertops, which are beautiful but very unforgiving. The heavy Dish broke in two, with half crashing to the floor.
I had no idea one can of green beans could cover so much floor. "Darn!" I yelled, or something like that. My dog came running to help; she loves green beans. "No, June!" I shouted, shooing her away before she got into the shards of glass. I cleaned up the mess, took out another pan, and finished prepping the casserole – now with five cans of green beans.
While the oven was full of sides, I put the roasted bird in a different pan and began to whisk flour into the turkey drippings to make a roux. I was still fuming over breaking Delaney's new dish. I added milk to the mixture and some black pepper. As I stirred the gravy, I could hear Dick Allen saying, "As long as you have gravy, it's going to be okay."
I took a small spoon and tasted the creamy sauce. "Oh my, that is good!" I smiled, "It's not just gravy, Dick, this is good gravy." Dick was right. We had gravy, and everything turned out just fine as we enjoyed a delicious turkey dinner.
The girls went home, and a couple of weeks passed, bringing us to yesterday.
Saturday morning, I went out to get the mail. I wasn't wearing my glasses, but I could read the large, bold letters on the outside of the envelope: "Official Court Business – Response Required." I had a strong hunch about what it was and hoped it would be addressed to my wife, the dog, or the cat. I would even be happy if it was for a neighbor but accidentally delivered to our house.
At the kitchen table, I put my glasses on and read: Lake County District Courts – Jury Summons Processing Center…to Thomas Palen. "Dang!" I blurted out – or something like that. I know a lot of people who have never been on jury duty, and this will be my fifth time. "Why me? Why can't they pick someone else who hasn't served?" I even moved to a different state to hide from the Iowa courts. Maybe they called Minnesota and said, "Call Palen – he loves jury duty." I'll bet they all had a good laugh about that.
In four of my previous terms, I was selected for two trials – both times as an alternate juror. I had to sit through the whole trail but was never able to vote on the outcome. "Always the bridesmaid - never the bride."
In highlighted, bold letters, it said to submit my response within ten days. I looked at the calendar; December 12. The notice inside said the summons was mailed on November 27. "That was fifteen days ago. How am I supposed to respond within ten days?" I checked the outside of the envelope, "It wasn't even postmarked until December 2." I complained out loud, "How can it take 15 days to get a letter mailed within the same county?"
I started filling out the questionnaire – grumbling all the way through it. "I'll probably end up going to jail for not responding on time." I checked a few more boxes, "I don't even look good in an orange jumpsuit." I scribbled my signature on the bottom, folded the paper, and slid it in the return envelope. I licked the edge and ran my finger over the flap to seal it.
I turned it over to write my return address when I notice the little box in the top right corner. "Are you kidding me? Postage required?" I muttered as I dug through the drawer looking for a stamp. "Maybe I won't write my return address. I'll just mail it in with no postage."
I chuckled, imagining the reaction of a judge getting my summons – postage due. I stopped laughing when I envisioned that judge slamming their gavel, "Thirty days! Take him away, bailiff." I saw myself in handcuffs and shackles, shuffling my feet while being escorted to the dungeon.
I wondered what they serve for dinner in the Lake County Pokey. Whatever it was, I was sure I wouldn't like it. I started laughing again as I could almost hear Dick Allen assuring me, "Don't worry. As long as they have gravy, everything is going to be okay."
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The 100' Dash
Before music was on a CD or programmed into a digital device, we had records made of vinyl. They were simpler times but had more challenges.
I'd lift the tonearm, swing it over and set the needle on the vinyl disc. With the turntable shut off and the pod level (volume) turned down, I would manually spin the record forward until the sound started in the cue speaker, then give it about a half turn backward. It's called "cueing a record," and it had to be just right.
If it was cued too tight, the audience would hear the turntable picking up speed. Too loose, and you'd end up with a one or two-second delay. Neither was good and would cause the inevitable phone call from the program director telling you, "Get it together, tighten up your show! Do I need to come to teach you how to cue up a record?" Blah, blah, blah.
Then, there was always the DJ who would rapidly move the record back and forth repeatedly right at the beginning of the audio, resulting in "cue burn." An unpleasant scratchy sound at the beginning of the song.
I had side 1-A ready to go. Right at noon, I pushed the button to start the front turntable. You'd play track one. A few songs would play, the guy would talk about each, telling a story. Some theme music played, there was a national commercial, then a break.
I cued the second track while playing a couple of local ads. After the second track finished, I'd give the weather forecast, read a public service announcement to promote a local organization's upcoming event, and then start the back turntable with side 1-B. Next, turning the front record over, on the flip side, was segment 2-A, ready to be cued up.
After starting each segment, I would sit back, listen to the music, pick up a magazine, or work on a commercial I was writing. Sometimes, I would look at the record, estimating the amount of time left on the segment, and decide to make a run to the bathroom. Inevitably, from the back of the building, I would hear the theme music that ended the segment. Dang!
A foot race ensued to see if I could get back to the studio before the turntable rolled into the next segment, or worse yet, made that scratchy, clicking noise when the needle reached the end of the record.
Desperately trying to reach the control board before any dead air happened, I would trip over the rack on the floor, the rack of cartridges which recorded commercials. Carts crashed about the room. I knocked over my cup of coffee, and line two on the telephone was flashing. Yep, the program director heard it.
While I was getting chewed out, my mind would wander: Whose bright idea was it to put the studios in the front of the radio station and the bathrooms in the back - one hundred feet away? How stupid is that? If I ever build a radio station, the john is going to be right outside the studio!
Line three, the request line, would ring. "Can you play..." "Sorry, we're not talking request right now; you can call back after 4:00. Thanks for listening! "
I hung up, then looked at the phone as if I was still talking to the caller, "Are you even listening to your radio? Geesh! We're in the middle of the weekly countdown."
After playing all four albums, front and back, the announcer came on with some closing comments and a teaser for next week's show, then said, "...until next week, keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars! I'm Casey Kasem, and this is the American Top Forty."
After the theme music ended, I opened the microphone: "You've been listening to Casey Kasem's American Top Forty, on K-98, and now here's..." Line two lit up on the phone. It was the program director.
"He just said you were listening to the American Top Forty; you don't need to repeat it. You're supposed to play a station liner and start the next song..." Blah, blah, blah.
Times would change. We stayed on the cutting edge of programming - who was the most popular, the hottest show running. Our weekly countdown changed from Casey Kasem to Scott Shannon, then to Rick Dees. The countdown show changed, but I didn't. I still made the same mistakes - on purpose sometimes, to rile up the program director.
Years later, I bought the radio stations and relocated them to a different building. I designed the new layout, and you can bet your last dollar, I put the studios upfront and the bathrooms in the back...one hundred feet away. Why should these new young DJs have it any easier than I did when I started? Besides, what better way to entertain the program director on their day off?
One Sunday afternoon, I picked the phone up and dialed 682-8712 - line two. "Come on, Chad, pay attention! Plan your bathroom breaks better, and don't be writing commercials during your air shift. You know the rules. There's just no excuse for dead air!"
While I was chewing him out, he probably was drifting off, thinking, "Who puts the studios in the front of the building and the bathrooms in the back, one hundred feet away?" Blah, blah, blah...
When the program's theme music ended, Chad opened his mic. "You've been listening to Rick Dee's Weekly Top-Forty countdown on KOTM, and now here's..." I picked the phone up and dialed 6-8-2-8-7-1-2... I swear he did that just to rile me up.
Albeit more challenging, radio was a lot more fun when every station had vinyl records and real-live disc jockeys working the studio - especially DJs who had not perfected to 100' dash.
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The Bear and the Chair
I decided to get ahead on my stockpile of firewood for the next heating season. I tried to buy it in May, but, for many reasons, it just didn't happen. I kept telling myself, "I'll stay on it and get it done early this year. I'm not waiting until the last minute, like last year…and the year before." I did make several more calls but didn't find the right deal yet.
It was now early October. We'd already had a few fires in the woodstove when I stood looking at my woodpile, taking inventory, if you will. "About a cord and a half, split, stacked, and seasoned." We usually burn about five face cords per year, but we plan to be home more this season, and I wanted at least seven or eight. I shook my head and walked to the house, "I'm just not ready."
I found a man selling split, seasoned hardwood. We talked over the course of ten days or so and finally made arrangements to pick up a load the next Sunday, around noon, right after church. I drove my old dump truck to mass. She's not much of a looker and she's pretty loud, but back in her prime, she was both a beauty and a beast. I would park at the way back of the church parking lot to be less conspicuous.
On my way into town, I was aware the bright red leaves on the maple trees had all fallen. Glowing gold leaves of the birch had blown away in the wind. The spectacular fall colors of the north shore had come and gone. Barren birch looked like vertical white logs with spindly empty branches scattered among the deep green pine trees. I thought how nice it would be to have some of those trees in my stack of firewood at home.
We had already had a decent snowfall, six or seven inches, that melted nearly as fast as it came. The grass on the side of the road had turned brown. Where they could find sparse patches of grass that were still green, jittery deer gathered on the sides of the road, ever vigilant of passing cars.
Further ahead on the shoulder, near the edge of the ditch, I saw the silhouette of something. Was it a deer that would jump in front of me? It was too short. Maybe it was a wolf or a fox. It could also be a big dog. Or, a bear! Yes! It was probably a bear that was late to hibernate.
Always eager for a bear sighting, I will admit to being deceived more than once. When you really want to spot a bear, a trash barrel, mailbox, tree stump, or even a rock can look like a bear from a distance. I slowed down. Whatever it was, I didn't want to hit it should it run into my lane.
As I got closer, the shape became more defined – and odd. It had a short body, a broad flat back, and a long neck. It must have been sitting or lying down because it didn't appear to have legs. When I finally reached it, it was obviously...uh...a chair? Yes, a chair sitting perfectly at the side of the road.
It was a rather handsome chair, even elegant. Gold in color, I felt like the chair had a rich history. Shorter than most, I assumed it was older – people were smaller back then, so furniture was more petite as well. The seat top had rolls and tucked pleats that rounded over the front edge; like a bear claw pastry. The pleats continued, lined up perfectly with those in the gold skirting below. A horizontal band between them, like the cummerbund on a tuxedo, defines the line between a man's shirt and his trousers. The fabric was still taut, even on the crescent-shaped back.
I wondered if it fell from someone's truck or trailer. Except for a couple of abrasions from tumbling on the pavement, it was in perfect condition. It was undoubtedly, too good to be going to the landfill. It was placed neatly, right at the edge of the gravel shoulder and the ditch. Its legs on the line, like athletes in a sports game. I imagined someone stopped to position the chair like this, making it easy for the owner to find when they returned, looking for it.
Perhaps, someone intentionally set it on the road hoping another person would take the chair home. No. It sat just past Olson road, on the opposite side of Highway 61, away from any houses. All alone on the shoulder - like an orphan, I felt sorry for the chair. I had thoughts of adopting it. I would put it in the back of my truck and take it home, "Look, honey! Look what I brought home to put in the three seasons room." Anticipating my wife's reaction, I felt it was best not to take it home, lest I should be placed alongside the highway, sitting in that very chair, holding a cardboard sign: "FREE to a good home. Husband. Comes with his own gold chair."
I was torn. If I didn't take the chair, eventually, the highway people would haul it away. As I slowly drove past, the chair called out to me: "Please, sir, take me with you. I'll be a good chair. I'm not ready for the landfill yet." Suddenly, remembering my mission, I decided to load my firewood and see how full the truck was on the way home. I drove on toward church.
After mass, I called the man. I told him I was going to grab a burger and would be on my way. Then, I noticed I had a low tire – actually, two of them. I stopped to fill the tire with one of those C-store air compressors. Man, they are slow, and the valve stems on a dual wheel are hard to reach. It took almost 40 minutes to bring each of the four back tires up to 80 pounds and add some power steering fluid to my old truck. At 2:00, I called again, "I'm on my way."
"Are you sure this time?" He laughed.
Not knowing how much wood the truck would hold, we loaded two cords. I told him, "I'll run this home, stack it and come back for another load tomorrow if that's okay."
"This is all I have left right now." He told me, "Could've sold this wood ten times over, but you kept saying you were coming, so I've been holding these two cords for you." I appreciated that. I paid the man and started for home. I now had three and a half cords of firewood. I'm still not ready yet.
I drove home, considering how cold it was getting. We were now into the first week of November, and I was about four cords short on firewood for the winter. As I got closer to home, I noticed something in my headlights on the left side of the road. It had a short fat body and a long neck, "Is that a big turkey?" I slowed down in case it ran onto the road ahead of me. I leaned my head closer to the windshield and squinted my eyes. The headlights made it look orange, like a giant pumpkin. Leaning back in my seat, I relaxed and laughed. "It's that chair again." I kept going.
Over the next several days, I drove back and forth along Highway 61 almost daily. Each time the chair was still there, and each time thoughts of taking it home returned – along with visions of being placed on the roadside with it. Finally, one day on my way to get more firewood, I pulled over just past the chair.
I sat in the chair on the shoulder of the road on a beautiful fall morning. My trusty but beat-up old truck sat rumbling to my left. The air was chilly, but the sun warmed the gold fabric. Albeit a little short for me, it was actually quite comfortable. I tried to give a spin with my legs to see if she swiveled. Nope. I looked under the skirt to check out the legs. They were in good condition. I was startled and blushed when someone, unbeknownst to me, spoke up. "Do you need help lifting that chair back up into your truck?"
I straightened the skirt and got up off my knees to greet the stranger. "No, it's not my chair. I just stopped to look at it." I thanked him for stopping. He drove away, and I sat back in the chair.
I pondered the trees, bare of their leaves; they had taken on a new beauty – a look of the winter to come. I watched as cars passed, a few honked. Ravens flew overhead, squawking, talking to each other: "Look at that man down there in the chair. Should we stop and see what he's doing?" The other answered, "We don't have time. There's a fresh deer just past Palisade Head. I want to get there before a crowd shows up."
I slipped into a daydream. One day I am going to build myself a writing cabin out in my woods. Maybe ten by twelve, the place will have a small potbellied wood stove for heat, and my furnishings will all be humble treasures I have found along the way. This chair would be perfect for my cabin.
Lost in the moment, I was startled when some asked, "Do you need help getting that chair in your truck?" I laughed. I didn't even hear the car pull over. Sitting comfortably in the chair, I explained it wasn't mine; I had just stopped to look at it. The lady said, "It's been sitting out here for quite a while. It looks like it's in good shape. You should take it home – you must really like it, to be sitting here on the side of a highway." I smiled and waved, still sitting in the chair, as she pulled away in her car. People sure are friendly along the north shore.
I stood up, giving the chair one last look; I grabbed my iPad from the truck to take a couple of pictures. It was sad; I watched the chair disappear in my rearview mirror as I drove away.
The next morning, driving into town, I didn't see the chair. I made a U-turn driving back to Olson Road. Indeed, I was in the right place. The chair was gone. I wondered if the highway crew took it or if someone else appreciated her beauty as I did and brought it home. I guess I'll never know.
I drove into town, second-guessing myself. Maybe I should have brought the chair home for the little cabin I'm going to build someday. I'm just not ready.
I spotted something ahead on the side of the road. Was it a bear that was late to hibernate? I slowed down in case it should run into my path. My spirits began to rise, "Could it be the chair?" If it was, I was definitely taking it home this time. My smile faded - my hopes dashed. It was just a trash barrel lying on the side of the road at the end of someone's driveway.