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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."